A family of jet-powered Cloud Shadow unmanned air systems displayed at the Dubai air show offer a potent mix of high-altitude intelligence-gathering and weapons capabilities – but unusually short endurance, according to specifications released by AVIC.
AVIC’s design philosophy breaks from the multi-mission approach used for many Western UAS designs. Each of the three variants in the Cloud Shadow family is optimised for a single role, in the form of the imagery-collecting CS-1, electronic-eavesdropping CS-2 and the hunter-killer CS-3.
A slide presentation that played on a loop on AVIC’s stand at the show revealed key details of each variant’s capabilities and performance.
Overall, the Cloud Shadow’s maximum altitude and range place the family at the top of AVIC’s portfolio of exportable UAS products, which also include the medium-altitude Wing Loong family and the low-altitude A-Hawk I and II quadcopters. The Cloud Shadow is designed to fly at 340kt (630km/h) and cruise at altitudes from 41,000-42,600ft, AVIC says.
But the aircraft’s endurance falls far short of the 10-30h endurance of most competitors in the high-altitude, long-endurance or medium-altitude, long-endurance market. The intelligence-gathering CS-1 and CS-2 variants are listed with a 6h endurance. The weapons-carrying CS-3 can operate up to 5h at a time, AVIC says.
A clue to the Cloud Shadow’s relatively short endurance is AVIC’s choice of engine. The company says the UAS family is powered by the WP-11C turbojet. According to GlobalSecurity.org, the WP-11C is derived from a 1950s-era French engine, which originally powered the Fouga Magister. Turbomeca sold a manufacturing license to Teledyne CAE to build the engine as the J69 for the US Air Force, and China reportedly acquired J69s after recovering jet-powered Ryan Firebee drones operating over Vietnam.
AVIC also claims that the Cloud Shadow family has some ability to operate undetected within contested airspace, as it has an “electromagnetic silent” mode.