The PLA’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has been largely limited to target drones and battlefield reconnaissance systems based on foreign technology. However, the PLA’s growing interest in UAVs and UCAVs has led to some significant investment and effort to develop a world-class unmanned system capability. In recent years the Chinese aerospace and defence sectors have introduced a number of UAV systems that are comparable to U.S. and European designs in performance and capability. China’s long-term goal for UAV development include high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE), medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE), vertical takeoff UAVs (VTUAV), airships, as well as subsonic, supersonic and even hypersonic UCAV platforms.

Chengdu GJ-1 / Wing Loong (Yilong)

Wing Loong (Yìlóng in Chinese) is a UAV system developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG), a subsidiary of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) consortium. Development of Wing Loong began in 2005 and the UAV made its maiden flight in 2007. The UAV was declassified in 2008 and was certified for export in June 2009. Bath production and delivery of the UAV to its customers began in 2010. The UAV is in service with the PLAAF under the designation of GJ-1 (Gongji-1).

The GJ-1/Wing Loong is described by its manufacturer as a “low-speed, medium/low-altitude, multirole, long-endurance UAV system, with combined surveillance and strike capabilities”. The UAV system is similar to the U.S. MQ-1 Predator in physical dimensions and performance. As well as for military roles, the UAV can also be used for disaster relief, law enforcement, environment protection, land survey, atmospheric sampling, and weather monitoring.

  • Length: 9 m
  • Height: 2.77 m
  • Wingspan: 14 m
  • Maximum take-off weight: 1,100 kg
  • Weapon load: 200 kg
  • Service ceiling: 5,300 m
  • Take-off runway: 1,000 m
  • Landing runway: 600 m
  • Maximum range: 4,000 km
  • Maximum endurance: 20 hours
  • Maximum speed: 280 km/h
  • Propulsion: 3-blade propeller driven by a pusher piston engine

CAIG confirmed that the GJ-1/Wing Loong has benefited from the mature technologies of the J-10 fighter aircraft, including fly-by-wire (FBW), integrated inertial navigation system with GPS (INS/GPS), fire-control, and datalink. The UAV also features an electro-optical targeting system incorporating infrared and TV sight with laser rangefinder / target designator, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), IFF, electronic warfare and countermeasures (EW/ECM), and missile approach warning (MAW).

The GJ-1/Wing Loong has two under-wing hardpoints to carry a wide range of conventional and precision strike weapons, including the LS-6 50 kg laser guided bomb (LGB), 50 kg inertial/GPS guidance bombs, AKD-9 (Blue Arrow 9) air-to-surface missiles, anti-radiation missiles (ARM), and TR-homing short-range air-to-air missiles (SRAAM).

Wing Loong

GJ-1

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CASC Cai Hong (CH)

The CH (Câihóng) series of UAV systems has been developed by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA, also known as the 11th Academy), a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science & Technology Corporation (CASC) consortium. These systems have been promoted to the international market by CASC’s foreign trading arm China Aerospace Long-March International Co. Ltd. (ALIT).

CH-3

The CH-3 is a the UAV system developed by CAAA for both ISR and ground strike roles. The UAV features a unique canard layout, with large winglets and 8 m wingspan. Propulsion is provided by a three-blade propeller driven by a pusher piston engine mounted on empennage. The main landing wheels of the fixed tricycle landing gear has fairing to reduce drag. The UAV is equipped with electro-optical targeting pod and satellite datalink.

  • Length: n/a
  • Height: n/a
  • Wingspan: 8 m
  • Maximum take-off weight: 630 kg (CH-3); 640 kg (CH-3A)
  • Weapon load: 60—80 kg (CH-3); 100 kg+ (CH-3A)
  • Service ceiling: 7,000 m
  • Operational altitude: 5,000 m
  • Maximum range: 2,400 km
  • Maximum endurance: 12 hours (CH-3); 15 hours (CH-3A)
  • Speed: 200 km/h (Cruising); 220—256 km/h (Maximum)
  • Propulsion: 3-blade propeller driven by a turbocharged piston pusher engine
  • Line-of-sight communications radius: 200 km

The CH-3 was first introduced in 2005. Pakistan has purchased the UAV system and also produced it locally under the name of Burraq. The Nigerian Armed Forces have also received an unknown number of the CH-3 UAV system along with the FT-5 PGBs from China. An example of these UAV crashed in Borno State in January 2015.

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CH-4

The CH-4 is a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV system, roughly similar in size to the U.S. MQ-1B Predator in size and performance. The development of the CH-4 began in 2010 and the UAV first flew in September 2011. The UAV entered the PLA service in 2014, and has also been exported to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE,and Iraq.

The CH-4 is a multirole unmanned aerial system capable of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR), air interdiction (AI), and electronic warfare (EW) missions. In addition, it can also be used for border petrol, law enforcement, and counterterrorism purposes.

The CH-4 is 9 m in total length and 18 m in wingspan, with 80% of its airframe made of composite materials. The tricycle landing gear is retractable to reduce air drag. The UAV is powered by an Austria Rotax 914 turbocharged 1.2-litre piston engine. It is equipped with an electro-optical targeting system incorporating infrared and TV sight with laser rangefinder / target designator with a detection range of 15 km, and a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) with a detection range of 30 km.

  • Length: 9 m
  • Height: n/a
  • Wingspan: 18 m
  • Maximum take-off weight: 1,330 kg
  • Weapon load: 345 kg
  • Fuel: 165 kg
  • Service ceiling: 8,000 m
  • Operational altitude: 5,000 m
  • Maximum range: 3,500 km
  • Maximum endurance: 38 hours (or 14 hours with maximum payload and fuel
  • Cruising speed: 200 km/h
  • Propulsion: 3-blade propeller driven by a Rotax 914 piston engine (100 hp)
  • Operators: 4 people

The UAV has four underwing pylons (75 kg payload on outer pylons and 120 kg payload on inner pylons). The UAV can carry 4 to 6 air-to-surface missile, precision guided bombs, or free-fall bombs. Weapon options include the AR-1/2 (Sheshou-1/2) semi-active laser-homing air-to-surface missiles, AR-3 anti-radiation missiles (200 km range), FT (Feiteng) series PGBs (25/50/100 kg, GPS/INS guidance), or free-fall bombs.

The AR-1 missile is a semi-active radar-homing missile with an effective range of 2 to 8 km, and an accuracy of under 1.5 m CEP. The missile is 1.45 m in length, 0.18 m in diameter, and 45 kg in mass. The missile can be launched from an altitude of 5,000 m, which means that the UAV can engage the target immediately without having to first lower its altitude. The missile has an off-bore sight angle of 20º, and can penetrate 1,000 mm against armoured targets and 1,200 mm against concrete buildings.

The CH-4 is operated from a single workshop truck with four operators: datalink operator, pilot, weapon operator, and electro-optical system operator. The UAV has the capability for automated takeoff and landing.

CH-4

The Iraqi Army Aviation acquired an unknown number of the CH-4B UAV along with some AR-1 missiles and FT-9 50 kg PGBs, which were seen in action against ISIS targets near Ramadi in October 2015. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also deployed the CH-4 UAV during their military interventions in Yemen since late 2015.

CH-4B in the Iraqi Army Aviation

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CH-5

The CH-5 is the latest member of the CASC CH family UAVs, approaching the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper in size and performance. The UAV made its first flight in August 2015.

  • Length: n/a
  • Height: n/a
  • Wingspan: 20 m
  • Maximum take-off weight: 3,000 kg
  • Weapon load: 900 kg
  • Service ceiling: n/a
  • Operational altitude: n/a
  • Maximum range: n/a
  • Maximum endurance: 30+ hours
  • Maximum speed: n/a
  • Propulsion: 3-blade propeller driven by a pusher piston engine

The CH-5 is capable of carrying a wider range of weapons, including the heavier 250 kg and 500 kg PGB/free-fall bombs, and air-to-surface missiles.

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NORINCO Sky Saker (Ruiying)

China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) has developed a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV system based on an aerial platform virtually identical to the CASC CH-4, but fitted with different mission payload and weapon suites. There has been no report regarding the service status of this UAV.

CASC CH-4 UCAV
NORINCO Sky Saker UAV

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BZK-005

The BZK-005 is a reconnaissance UAV jointly developed by Harbin Aviation Industry Group (HAIG) and Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) in the early 2000s. Current serving with the PLAAF and PLAN, the UAV was first revealed to the public during the Victory Day Parade held in Beijing in September 2015. The UAV is equipped with satellite communications equipment and electro-optical observation turret, but does not carry any weapon.

  • Length: n/a
  • Height: n/a
  • Wingspan: n/a
  • Maximum take-off weight: 1,250 kg
  • Service ceiling: 8,000 m
  • Operational altitude: n/a
  • Maximum range: n/a
  • Maximum endurance: 40 hours
  • Cruising speed: 150—180 km/h
  • Propulsion: 3-blade propeller driven by a pusher piston engine

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ASN-206/207/209

Xi’an ASN Technology Group Company, a company owned by the Northwest Polytechnic University (NPU), has been developing a wide range of small- to medium-sized UAV for the PLA. The ASN-206 and its derivatives have been operated by the PLA since the 1990s for a variety of missions including ISR, artillery targeting, communications relay, and electronic warfare/countermeasures.

The UAV can be easily identified through its signature tail-pushed, twin-tail braced aerodynamic layout, with an air-colled piston pusher engine fitted at the rear of the fuselage. The UAV is transported on and launched from a flatbed 6×6 truck, using solid rocket booster to assist take-off, and is recovered using parachute.

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