China May Have Just Unveiled A New High-Altitude, Long-Endurance, Stealth Drone

China May Have Just Unveiled A New High-Altitude, Long-Endurance, Stealth Drone

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The disruptive and revolution in the use and employment of robotic and autonomous systems on the battlefields of the future continue to undergo rapid and dynamic change, as this latest article from Business Insider shows.

Jeremy Bender, writes in the January 14, 2015 edition of the publication, that “China may have just scored a success — in its push to eroding U.S. air superiority.” While that is probably an over-statement — the fact remains that China, Russia, and other peers, near=peers, and even third-tier countries and adversaries — all making advances on both the cyber front; and, with the use and employment of autonomous systems.

According to Mr. Bender, “late last month, China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corp. unveiled its latest iteration of the Tian Yi, high-altitude, long-endurance drone (basically China’s version of the U.S. Global Hawk) — that could have (and probably does — at least some version) have stealth capabilities.

China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corp. has “released two models of the Tian Yi in 2006, and 2008. “Critically,” Mr. Bender writes, “the latest model has a number of redesigns, including a wider air intake, a redesigned fuselage, and two turbofan engines.” “The purpose of the redesign,” according to the well-respected defense magazine — IHS Jane’s — “is likely to suppress the UAV’s infrared signature, which would stand out in higher cruise altitudes.”

“This new drone development is part of China’s efforts to match U.S. military capabilities,” Business Insider asserts. “Chinese hackers had previously conducted a two-year campaign against at least 20 foreign defense contractors — in a bid to steal technology underpinning the U.S. drone program.” Something commonly referred to in defense and intelligence circles as “China’s Great Steal Ahead.” According to Foreign Policy, “the Tian Yi could function as a smaller version of the U.S. Global Hawk — the U.S. flagship surveillance drone.”

The Ultra-Lethal Drones Of The Future

Sharon Weinberger, writing in the May 17, 2014 edition of The New York Post, notes that “In [just] 13 short years, killer drones have gone from being exotic military technology featured primarily on the pages of specialized aviation magazines, to a phenomenon of popular culture, splashed across daily newspapers; and, fictionalized in film and television — including the new season of ’24.’

“What has not changed all that much, — at least superficially,” — she writes, “is the basic aircraft that most people associate with drone warfare: the armed Predator. But, the Predator is “yesterday’s news,” and “a whole new generation of drones are currently being developed that will be able to penetrate a nation’s air defenses of even the most sophisticated and well-defended airspace — spotting ‘clandestine’ nuclear facilities in their nascent stages, as well as tracking down; and, possibly killing terrorist leaders — from high altitudes. These drones will be fast, stealthy, and survivable, designed to sneak in and out of a country without ever being spotted. In fact, Ms. Weinbeerger writes “the Predator may someday be to drone warfare what the V-2 was to long-range ballistic missiles.”

The Future

Ms. Weinberger writes that “two unmanned spy drones are under development; one that appears almost ready combat is the RQ-180, a stealthy spy-drone built by Northrup Grumman — which is reportedly designed to fly very high, for a very long time (perhaps as long as 24 hours).” According to the defense publication, Aviation Week, the RQ-180 “has a 130ft. wing-span; and a “cranked kite,” stealthy design that would allow it to slip past enemy radar. Chances are,” she adds, “it will only be used for surveillance, not attack — though it could carry out an electronic attack.”

“Another, recently revealed project,” Ms. Weinberger notes, is “a high-altitude drone being developed by Lockheed Martin, that can travel up to six times the speed of sound. The drone would do both surveillance and combat missions But, the SR-72, as Lockheed is calling it, won’t be ready to fly till 2030,” — at least right now.

“What about a replacement for the Predator?,” Ms. Weinberger asks. “The Pentagon has openly funded work on unmanned combat aircraft; including Northrup Grumman’s X-47, a diamond-shaped drone that can takeoff and land on aircraft carriers,” and there are no doubt several others under development.

Small And Ubiquitous

Autonomous drones that can interact with each other — without human intervention, activate based on target activity, drones disguised as birds, or even insects, swarms of drones, and tiny drones that can fly through windows, hallways, aerial combat drones, etc. are all no doubt on the drawing board. “The real drone evolution,” Ms. Weinberger argues, “may not come through the sophistication of the drones; but, the proliferation of these systems across the globe. Just as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), fast became the number one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, experts are now warning that crude drones — in some cases, essentially sophisticated model airplanes — could be the real threat in years to come.”

The Rand Corporation recently warned that “in the future, terrorist groups might be able to buy small, armed drones: “Smaller systems could become the next IEDs: low-cost, low-tech weapons that are only of limited lethality individually, but attrite, significant numbers of U.S., or allied personnel — when used in large numbers, over time.”

It is indeed, a brave new world. V/R, RCP

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