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    Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015

    What Makes New Chinese Sea-Skimming Combat Drone Perfect for South China Sea

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    Pictures have emerged on social media of a new Chinese anti-ship drone that uses ground effect technology to fly at an extremely low altitude above the water.

    The pictures show a flying vehicle with a set of forward canards and a pair of upward swept wings. The drone is painted in the blue camouflage of the Chinese Navy.

    ​According to an article on Defense Blog, the new sea-skimming drone will be able to fly as low as 50 cm above the surface of the water. It can reach a maximum altitude of 3,000 meters and has an endurance of 1.5 hours. The drone has a maximum takeoff weight of 3,000 kilograms and can carry a 1,000 kg load.

    In an interview with Sputnik China, Russian military expert Vasily Kashin said that the available information indicates that China is on the verge of creating a new type of weapon that would embody the anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) conception.

    Kashin said that the drone can take off from the water and this is why it is well suited for deployment to China-controlled islets and facilities in the South China Sea. Unlike planes, the drone could be used even if airstrips on those islands are destroyed.

    "Its index name begins with CH, by analogy with Rainbow-type combat unmanned aerial vehicles. Probable, the new drone was developed by the 11th academy of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)," Kashin suggested.

    Media reports do not provide details on the drone’s speed. Usually, ekranoplans cannot surpass 500-550 kph. The expert said that with a flight time of 1.5 hours the drone is expected to reach up to 600 kph and to be able to fly at 1-6 meters above the water.

    Kashin said that the drone has three main purposes. First, it is designed to deliver strikes at large surface targets. Second, it can be used for rapid torpedo attacks at long distances. Finally, the drone will be useful for isolating maritime areas. Due to its low altitudes, the drone will not be suitable for reconnaissance missions.

    "Probably, for the first group of tasks it can carry a powerful warhead with a weight of up to 1,000 kilograms. In such a scenario, the drone is not reusable. It is slower than anti-ship missiles. At the same time, its low flight altitude will allow for traveling slightly touching the surface of the water," the expert said.

    Kashin also assumed that the unit cost of the new drone could be much lower than that of an anti-ship cruise missile, especially a supersonic missile, due to a cheaper design of its body and engine.

    The expert also pointed out that China is also working on so-called swarming drone technology. This concept refers to the use of an autonomous group of drones, which can intercommunicate and distribute roles on a mission. Similar technologies were used in Russian-developed heavy-anti-ship missiles, such as the Granit and the Vulkan.

    "In theory, despite its low flight speed, drones of the new type could operate in a group, distributing directions of attack between each other. Thus, they could breach the air defense of the enemy naval group. The drone could also be equipped with radio and electronic warfare devices and armored protection," Kashin said.

    Moreover, according to Kashin’s assumption, an attack by these new drones could be coordinated with the use of other weapons, including anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles and combat aircraft.

    The new drone can also carry torpedoes, which makes it a kind of reusable anti-submarine missile, Kashin added.

    "In this scenario, the vehicle would fly to the target probable location area and drop a torpedo. Possibly, it could receive information on the target from an underwater monitoring system currently developed by China. It could also coordinate with anti-submarine aircraft," the expert said.

    Furthermore, according to the expert, the new drone could hypothetically be used against ground targets, with the use of the Chinese version of the Russian-made Shkval torpedo.

     

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    navy, drone, South China Sea, China
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