Posted by: mulrickillion | February 24, 2012

Civilian UAV Production as a Window to the PLA’s Unmanned Fleet

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The V750 (or Z-5?) UAV

By Daniel Houpt, China Brief, Vol. 12, Iss. 4, Feb 21, 2012 — Representing a wider trend, one of China’s largest aerospace manufacturers, AVIC, recently announced, after a record 18.8 percent growth in 2011, it is increasing investment in an unmanned helicopter that will function in a range of both mundane civil applications as well as more critical military and police missions. Although the Chinese military has already incorporated some unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) into its arsenal, information on the PLA’s unmanned capabilities remains limited. However, it is possible to glean critical information about China’s future unmanned fleet by looking closer at its civilian UAV uses. The Chinese government has been forthright about its intentions to better exploit civilian ingenuity for its defense modernization and, in the UAV market, domestic defense manufacturers and specialized academic institutions are critical sources of UAV innovation of which the PLA is the ultimate benefactor.

The Current PLA UAV Fleet

The Chinese military has only a handful of UAV models in service. Out of the seven models listed by the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2011 as in active PLA service, about half are outdated and limited in capability. little is known about the other, more modern models. For example, two models in service, the ASN-105 and ASN-206, are based on technology dating back to the 1960s, with ranges of about 93 miles, max payloads of about 88 pounds and have to land by parachute recovery—according to the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) catalogue. The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is similarly limited in its UAV capabilities: the CH-1 Chang Hong reportedly was reverse engineered from 1950s era U.S. technology, the Chang Kong-1 target UAV was developed in the 1960s and the Harpy UAV was purchased from Israel in 1994.

The newer BZK-005 and BZK-006/W-6 models, while presumably much more capable, remain ambiguous platforms. Recent episodes have shed some light on these models, but have served to spark more questions than answers. In August 2011 pictures surfaced of a stealthy drone similar in appearance to a U.S. Reaper drone that had crashed in Hebei Province in North China. Some believed it to be the BZK-005, also known as “Tianchi,” but little substantive information came out of this episode. Similarly, in December 2011 pictures posted on a Chinese website revealed a swept winged stealthy UAV known as “wind blade” that looked similar in appearance to the RQ-170 U.S. drone that crashed in Iran. Other than generating speculation about its potential uses or actual stealth capabilities, the pictures floating around Chinese discussion boards had limited value. . . .

The Jamestown Foundation: Civilian UAV Production as a Window to the PLA’s Unmanned Fleet

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