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​China’s UAV ambitions coming of age

UAVs were again a major feature of Airshow China this year, with dozens of local manufacturers proposing systems of all sizes and for all missions.

The most notable system at the show was the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC) CH-7, of which a mock-up was displayed at the company’s dedicated hall.

The aircraft, reminiscent of the Boeing MQ-25A or European Neuron, has yet to be developed, but will reportedly be available for export.

It promoted the platform as a high altitude, long endurance (HALE) aircraft, with a 22m wingspan and a cruising altitude of 10-13km.

“[The CH-7] conducts reconnaissance, air defence operations, and operational support,” the company states in a promotional video. “It can also launch strikes or [provide targeting] information to other platforms, to strike targets of high value.”

The company also promoted its CH-5, which has reportedly had sales success in the Middle East, as an “airborne bomb truck.” Two other notable platforms it proposed were the tiltrotor CH-10, which appears to be designed for use aboard warships, and a high altitude, solar powered UAV.

AVIC displayed three variants of its Wing Loong series on static: the Wing Loong I and II, as well as the export oriented Wing Loong ID. An assortment of missiles and bombs surrounded the aircraft. A plaque at the AVIC stand stated that since the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took the Wing Loong in 2009, over 100 have been exported. Customers include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Egypt, and Uzbekistan.

A computer generated AVIC video showed a large, low observable UAV landing on an aircraft carrier. Another computer generated video showed its Cloud Shadow jet UAV destroying two buildings with glide bombs, and a moving vehicle with a missile.

Several companies promoted large, capable UAVs - although their development status is uncertain. In the static park, local firms Tengden and Poly Technologies had mockups of large, twin-engined unmanned systems. The TW356 can carry payloads such as cargo, remote sensing, and a communications/electronic warfare package. Its TW328 is a HALE UAV with four hardpoints. The company’s proposed TW765 will be able to carry a 24,000kg payload up to 7,500km.

In a hall dedicated to UAVs, Beijing Zhonghangzhi Technology promoted the TD10, a proposed 15t unmanned helicopter using coaxial rotors, and ZT Guide Control the FL-1, another HALE system with four hardpoints for weapons.

There were dozens of other systems on display, including small weaponised helicopter UAVs, delivery drones, and various reconnaissance systems.

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