China may have used an unmanned air vehicle called the Silver Eagle in a recent naval exercise over the South China Sea.
According to a website sponsored by the People's Liberation Army, tp.chinmil.com.cn, the twin-tailed design performed a simulated combat mission following its launch from the bed of a truck.
The Silver Eagle is all but identical to the ASN Technology ASN-209, a model of which was displayed at the 2010 Air Show China in Zhuhai. The only difference appears to be four upright appendages on the Silver Eagle, two on the aircraft's fuselage and one on either wing.
During a 3h flight, a ground operator controlled the Silver Eagle with a mouse and keyboard, the website said. When the UAV reached the combat zone, it maintained a cruising speed of 72kt (134km/h) and an altitude of 9,840ft (3,000m).
During its mission it disrupted communications, while also acting as a node for a Chinese military communications network, relaying "large numbers of information packets" among Chinese forces. When an 'enemy' aircraft approached, the ground control station initiated a "counter-surveillance deployment plan", and by reducing its altitude and initiating radio silence the Silver Eagle evaded detection.
Following the mission, the aircraft returned to its launching position and landed by deploying a parachute.
According to an ASN catalogue, the ASN-209 can operate in day and night conditions, performing reconnaissance, battlefield surveillance, target location and battle-damage assessment. It provides information in real time, has 10h endurance, and a combat radius of 200km (108nm). The catalogue makes no mention of a maritime role for the aircraft.
The use of the Silver Eagle in a naval exercise highlights one of the potential roles of UAVs in the 'access denial' strategy China would employ in a naval conflict in home waters.
Dozens of UAV models were on display at the Zhuhai show. These included a scale model of an aircraft called the WJ-600, apparently a high-altitude, long-endurance system. In a mural at the show, the turbofan-powered WJ-600 relayed information about a US aircraft carrier battle group to Chinese shore-based missile batteries and deployed an anti-ship missile.
In late June a Japanese patrol aircraft spotted a small UAV apparently operating from a Chinese warship.