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China Is Pursuing Unmanned Tactical Aircraft 

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by Roxana Tiron 

China has been quietly at work pursuing unmanned aircraft technologies both domestically and from foreign partners. It also is marketing its drones to friendly nations in Asia and Africa, according to a Chinese industry official.

“It is the trend of customers in the world to have reconnaissance, intelligence and long endurance” unmanned systems, said Yang Ying, the vice president of the China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation.

Only recently did the Chinese Army receive a series of reconnaissance UAVs produced by CATIC, said Ying, who spoke to National Defense at the Asian Aerospace 2004 in Singapore.

A system called the ASN-105B is designed to penetrate the battlefield to perform real-time surveillance and intelligence collection. The vehicle is operated by remote control from a ground control station.

The navigation system is based on GPS (Global Positioning System). The UAV is launched by rocket boost and lands with a parachute.

ASN-105B has a wingspan of 5 meters and can carry a payload of up to 40 kg at a maximum speed of 200 km an hour. Its endurance is seven hours and it can cover up to 150 km.

An ASN-105 system is made up of six air vehicles, one main ground control station, a mobile ground control station, a photo processing shelter, a TV/infrared image interpreting shelter and a launcher.

Another system developed several years ago, the ASN-206, can perform day and night aerial reconnaissance, battlefield surveillance, target positioning and artillery shooting adjustment. The Chinese use it for border patrol, nuclear radiation survey and sample, aerial photography and disaster surveillance.

The ASN-206 has a wingspan of 6 meters and can carry a payload up to 50 km. It can travel up to 210 km per hour at heights of 6,000 meters. It can endure operations up to eight hours and cover a range of 150 km.

Mission equipment includes low light-level camera, infrared line scanner, airborne video recorder and laser altimeter. The ASN-206 system consists of one air vehicle, a power plant and a launch-and-recovery system.

The Chinese military has operated a light UAV system and a target drone for the past 10 years, both produced by CATIC, said Ying.

The ASN-15 is a hand-launched UAV for battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance, routine patrol, as well as search and rescue. It has a wingspan of 3 meters and can operate at a speed of up to 90 km per hour. It flies at an altitude of up to 500 meters and can cover an area of up to 10 km. Launched by rail, it can be recovered by parachute or by “belly skid landing,” according to CATIC.

A system is made up of three air vehicles, a ground control station, remote control transmitter, video receiver, real-time video downlink and film camera.

The target drone, meanwhile, is being used for air-defense training, ground-to-air missile training, anti-aircraft gun training and radar training. The ASN-7 zips at 360 km per hour and can fly as high as 5,000 meters and as low as 50 meters. Its endurance is one hour. It can perform in environments as cold as minus 50 degrees Celsius or as hot as 30 degrees Celsius. It is launched by booster rocket and recovered by parachute.

China keeps updating its UAV systems, said Ying. Upgrades are “continuous with the development of avionics,” he said. Chinese UAVs are capable of autonomous flight, he said. Since 1990, “UAVs became a trend in the country’s needs.”

For foreign customers, CATIC adjusts the systems to their specific requirements, and those systems are marketed under different names, he said. CATIC is a government-owned company and also develops fighter aircraft. These have been marketed to Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

CATIC is not the only organization working on UAVs. The Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics developed the Chang Hong UAV—a high altitude, high subsonic speed, multi-role aircraft. It was designed to be launched from an aircraft and is able to land on either land or water.

The China Aerospace Science Technology Center is developing mini-UAVs, an endeavor started in 1999. The Najing Research Institute for Simulation Techniques has designed a surveillance UAV, while Beijing Wisewell produces the AW-4 Shark UAV and the AW-12A.

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