China Builds New Missile-Armed Heavy Drone Capable of Evading Enemy Air Defences
12:01 GMT 14.10.2021 (Updated: 12:09 GMT 14.10.2021)
© REUTERS / ALY SONGVisitors stand near a model of WJ-700 armed reconnaissance drone displayed at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, or Airshow China, in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, China September 28, 2021
© REUTERS / ALY SONG
The People’s Republic has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the defence industry in recent years, making steady progress in the creation of a host of advanced drones, missile systems, aircraft, warships, and other weapons amid US moves to ‘pivot to Asia’ and beef up its own military footprint in the Asia-Pacific region.
Chinese media have touted some of the advanced capabilities of the new WJ-700 Lieying (‘Falcon’) combat drone, flaunting its ability to fly at altitudes of up to 15,000 meters, to carry heavy missiles and “make the combat formation scenes in the movies a reality”.
In a recent TV report, China Central Television revealed that the WJ-700, which carried out its first flight in January 2021, is capable of operating independently or in coordination with other drones, and is at the center of an ambitious new integrated surveillance and strike programme developed for the People’s Liberation Army.
Built by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), and first unveiled at an airshow in late 2018, the Falcon weighs 3,500 kg, has an estimated endurance time of 20 hours, a cruising speed of up to 600 km per hour, and the ability to carry a range of heavy weapons, including air-to-surface missiles, anti-ship armaments and bunker-busting munitions.
Chief designer Ma Hongzhong told CCTV that the drone’s flight ceiling will allow it to evade all but the most sophisticated enemy air defences. “The high flight ceiling will also add power when it comes to firing missiles, because they will have a longer attack range,” he said.
The drone’s communications with ground control and/or other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and aircraft is expected to be achieved via satellite, as well as ground-based stations.
Earlier this year, CASIC told the Global Times that in addition to domestic needs, the drone may be exported abroad over the next five to ten years.
The drone is the first high-altitude, high-speed, long-endurance drone with both strike and reconnaissance capabilities in China’s arsenal. Only a handful of other countries have demonstrated the capabilities to build such UAVs.
The monoplane design is a break from previous drones in the WJ series, including the WJ-500, WJ-600 and WJ-600A/D, which feature a vehicle-launch platform and a cruise-missile like appearance of a kind perfected by Soviet designers in the 1970s and 1980s.
China is already a global leader in the sale of unmanned aerial aircraft for both civilian and military applications. The Asian nation is expected to make up nearly a quarter of the global drone market by 2024, netting domestic manufacturers billions of dollars’ worth of profits.