A leaked US government document suggests that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has set up a supersonic unmanned air vehicle (UAV) squadron using the delta-shaped WZ-8.

The classified document indicates that the WZ-8 is carried aloft by a Xian H-6M bomber, which deploys it well outside the region to be surveyed and then returns to base. The WZ-8, flying at Mach 3 at an altitude of 100,000ft, passes over the target region and then lands at a nearby airfield.

WZ-8 Zhuhai

Source: Chinese Social Media

The WZ-8 at Airshow China in 2021 may have been mock-up

The document suggests its sensor suite comprises a synthetic aperture radar and electro-optical sensor for use in daylight conditions.

The authenticity of the document – ostensibly from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency – is unclear, but it appears to be part of a recent leak of classified documents. On 14 April, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Airman First Class Jack Teixeira, who allegedly shared the documents on social media.

The document was published by the Washington Post. It appears to be a photograph of an original document from January 2023, and shows creases suggesting that it had been folded.

The H-6M first appeared in the static park of Airshow China in 2014, surrounded by a range of land-attack munitions, including cruise missiles. The WZ-8 made its debut on the back of a truck during a 2019 military parade in Beijing. An example – which may have been a mock-up – also appeared in the static park of the 2021 Airshow China.

The document shows hypothetical missions involving two countries, South Korea and Taiwan. In both cases the H-6M takes off from Luan airfield.

In the South Korean mission, the H-6M is launched off the west coast of North Korea. It flies along South Korea’s western seaboard before landing at Dashuipo airfield. A similar profile is operated for Taiwan, with the WZ-8 deployed north of the island nation, and then crossing Taiwan from the northeast to west coast, finally landing at Zhangzhou airfield.

The document also features satellite imagery of the WZ-8 at Luan.

The pentagon document compares the WZ-8 to other Chinese UAVs, such as the WZ-7. It estimates that the WZ-7 has an operational speed of M0.8 and an operational altitude of 60,000ft.

It is of note that the Pentagon specifies the launch platform as the H-6M. Previous speculation suggested the launch vehicle for the WZ-8 would be the H-6N, the most advanced variant of the H-6 family, which features a concavity beneath its fuselage.

In October 2020, footage emerged of an H-6N, the only H-6 variant capable of air-to-air refuelling, carrying a ballistic missile in the concavity beneath its fuselage.

Unlike the H-6K, H-6J, and H-6N, which have modern enclosed radomes, the H-6M still features a glass nose, like that of the Tupolev Tu-16 on which the H-6 family is based. The H-6M features a chin radome instead, as well as twin cannons in a tail barbette.