Guest Post: Here Comes China's Drones

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Trefor Moss of The,

Unmanned systems have become the legal and ethical problem child of the global defense industry and the governments they supply, rewriting the rules of military engagement in ways that many find disturbing. And this sense of unease about where we’re headed is hardly unfamiliar. Much like the emergence of drone technology, the rise of China and its reshaping of the geopolitical landscape has stirred up a sometimes understandable, sometimes irrational, fear of the unknown.

It’s safe to say, then, that Chinese drones conjure up a particularly intense sense of alarm that the media has begun to embrace as a license to panic. China is indeed developing a range of unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (UAVs/UASs) at a time when relations with Japan are tense, and when those with the U.S. are delicate. But that hardly justifies claims that “drones have taken center stage in an escalating arms race between China and Japan,” or that the “China drone threat highlights [a] new global arms race,” as some observers would have it. This hyperbole was perhaps fed by a 2012 U.S. Department of Defense report which described China’s development of UAVs as "alarming."

That’s quite unreasonable. All of the world’s advanced militaries are adopting drones, not just the PLA. That isn’t an arms race, or a reason to fear China, it’s just the direction in which defense technology is naturally progressing. Secondly, while China may be demonstrating impressive advances, Israel and the U.S. retain a substantial lead in the UAV field, with China—alongside Europe, India and Russia— still in the second tier. And thirdly, China is modernizing in all areas of military technology – unmanned systems being no exception.

New unmanned missions

Nonetheless, China has started to show its hand in terms of the roles that it expects its growing fleet of UAVs to fulfill. In a clear indication that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has an operational armed UAV capability in which it feels relatively confident, last week reports of a plan to send a UAV into Myanmar to assassinate a drug trafficker who had murdered 13 Chinese nationals came to light. The Chinese government ultimately rejected this tactic, but it is evidently tempted to follow Washington’s lead in reserving the right to use UAVs to target enemies of the state, even on foreign soil.

Territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea have also persuaded Beijing to accelerate its deployment of UAVs, which are ideally suited to maritime surveillance missions. UAVs are already used routinely to monitor the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, a PLA general recently claimed. “[Both China and Japan] seem intent on establishing more presence in these disputed zones,” comments Peter Singer, Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution,“both to establish their own claims … and to watch what the other is doing. UAS are helpful in those aims, especially with their longer duration versus traditional manned platforms.” The PLA Air Force has also converted its obsolete J-6 fighters into UAVs; based in Fujian, the J-6s are apparently being used for Diaoyu surveillance, as well as being expendable strike assets in the event of an armed engagement.

Nor is China’s deployment of UAVs limited to the military realm. The government of Liaoning Province is reportedly using UAVs to monitor the North Korean border, and is also said to be establishing two coastal UAV bases from which it will oversee its areas of jurisdiction in the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Gulf. Meanwhile, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) – one of China’s main maritime agencies – announced in August that it is setting up 11 UAV bases, one in each of China’s coastal provinces. It expects to have these bases up and running by 2015 (images of some of the SOA’s current UAVs can be seen here). It’s also worth recalling that all of China’s UAV advances have been enabled by the Beidou satellite constellation, which now includes 16 active satellites providing coverage across China and the Asia-Pacific.

If provincial governments and civilian law enforcement agencies plan to induct UAVs in tandem with the PLA, then that’s a large fleet of unmanned aircraft able to perform a variety of different functions that China will need to bring online over the next few years. But, there is no shortage of technology programs competing to make the cut.

China’s UAV programs

Dozens of Chinese UAV concepts have appeared over the years, most of which will never leave the laboratory, let alone the runway. However, the Chinese aerospace sector has clearly devoted a great deal of energy to producing a range of designs from which the PLA has been able to cherry-pick. Chinese engineers have also been able to draw on Israeli technology, having acquired Harpy UAVs from Israel Aerospace Industries in the 1990s. “They've gone in the last few years from having none in development to at least 25 different models displayed at arms shows,” says Singer.“So, it’s a very ambitious program. But again, it parallels their growth in capabilities and ambitions in many others beyond UAS, from jet fighters to missiles.” He warns against overhyping China’s UAV effort, noting that for now “we’re talking very small numbers [of Chinese UAVs] … and not yet near U.S. capabilities.”

If the example of the U.S military is anything to go by, the PLA should only have operational requirements for around six to ten UAVs. It appears closer to filling some of these operational niches than others.

The China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) has developed a number of ASN series UAVs, at least two of which appear to be in operational use. First is the ASN-15, a small intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) UAV similar to the U.S. RQ-11 Raven, a small, man-portable system able to perform basic battlefield ISTAR duties. Second is the ASN-209 medium altitude and medium endurance UAV comparable to the U.S. ScanEagle, a larger ISR asset than the Raven with up to 20 hours of flight time for longer-range battlefield and maritime surveillance. The ASN-209 is probably the same aircraft as the “Silver Eagle” which was widely reported to have taken part in naval exercises over the South China Sea in 2011.

Vertical takeoff UAVs (VTUAV), which are especially useful for naval ISTAR and fire control, are also beginning to enter service (though the U.S. Navy’s comparable MQ-8 Fire Scout is itself yet to receive operational clearance). A PLA Navy frigate was pictured in 2012 operating what was probably one of the 18 Camcopter S-100s China acquired from Austrian company Schiebel, supposedly intended for civilian use. Another VTUAV, the SVU-200, made its first flight late last year, while a third unmanned helicopter, the V750, recently entered civilian service. The PLA Navy is known to be exploring the possible applications of VTUAVs, including their use in anti-submarine warfare, and to be interested in the use of UAVs more broadly on its new and future aircraft carriers, not least because UAVs can significantly augment China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. “A2/AD places a premium on extending your range of monitoring and tracking targets from afar,” Singer says.“UAS are very helpful in that.”

Bigger, more advanced UAVs are also now breaking cover. Two in particular appear to be similar to the U.S.’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) UAVs best known for conducting lethal operations in Pakistan and elsewhere. These are the Yilong/Wing Loong “Pterodactyl”, built by the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI), and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC’s) CH-4. According to a recent Global Times report, the Yilong is primarily regarded as a Reaper-style strike aircraft, while the CH-4 is more of a multi-role aircraft that will be deployed by civilian agencies, as well as by the military, for surveillance purposes, though it can also be weaponized. These two UAVs appear to be in the same class as the CH-91, built by Aerospace Long March International (ALIT), an ISTAR system which is reported to have already entered production, and the more advanced CH-92, which is due to enter production in 2014. A similar class of UAV, the WJ-600, has been showcased by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), though this system – which is jet-powered, unlike the propeller-driven Yilong and the CH-4 – was not seen at the most recent China Air Show.

Finally, the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation is working on the Soaring Eagle, an analogue of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, Washington’s high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV. Recent pictures of a Soaring Eagle on the runway suggest that its development is moving forward effectively. There are also hints that China is working on a stealthy UAV called the Wing Blade, which is reminiscent of the U.S.’s black-budget RQ-170 Sentinel, while a stealthy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) called the Dark Sword – perhaps along the lines of the U.S. Navy’s experimental X-74B – may also be in development. Chinese technicians are also undoubtedly experimenting with a new generation of nano-UAVs, like the Black Hornet micro-helicopter now in action with the British Army.

China’s drone boom

The aerospace sector must now supply huge demand from both the PLA and civilian authorities. So it is not hard to envisage several of these seemingly competing UAVs, rather than just one winner, being produced in large numbers in order to help the defense industry meet its growing demand. In fact, last November a senior CASIC executive forecast that Chinese UAV sales would double in 2013.

Chinese firms also have high hopes for export sales. The Predator-style CH-4 in particular is being pushed for export, and was displayed at the recent IDEX defense expo in Abu Dhabi. The system is part of CASC’s CH “Rainbow” family of drones, and is understood to be an upgraded version of the CH-3 UAV, which China has already sold to Pakistan. The Yilong has also “already successfully entered the international market”, according to Chinese sources quoted by RIA Novosti at the recent China Air Show.

China has rightly identified a gap in the market, with relatively few countries having inducted UAVs so far, and few capable of building drones themselves, the low cost of Chinese systems will certainly be an advantage. A U.S. Predator costs around $4.5 million, while a Reaper is closer to $10 million for countries that manage to obtain clearance to buy them. Chinese sources have claimed that their equivalent UAVs cost less than $1 million, making them a highly affordable capability for a host of international customers, especially those unable or unwilling to source U.S. and Israeli technology.

So if there is an alarm bell worth ringing about the emergence of Chinese UAVs, it is probably not the threat they will pose to the U.S. or Japan in the Asia-Pacific – it is the proliferation to the developing world of armed, unmanned systems that China’s low prices, and even lower export barriers, may soon begin to drive.


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Uncle Zuzu's picture

They look oddly identical to ours.  Who leaked the blueprints?

DJ Happy Ending's picture

In the 1990s they bought and stole our satellite launch tech to mollify the insurance companies so they could enter the commercial market. In the 2000s they bought the USSR's spacecraft tech to put humans in orbit. This time I'm guessing it was more of the same for their drones.

Modern Asian cultures have an amazing track record for copying and optimizing other people's technology (Japan in the 1970s and Korea in the 1980s). The past 20 years, it has been China's turn and they have not disappointed.

palmereldritch's picture

Ultimately, isn't the entire network going to be China's drones?

As the Globalist's mercantile engine for de-industrialization abroad and hub for slavish robotic Stooge* commands won't they be the final control interface for the NWO's completed world-wide network of drones?

*Note: Did not say Alpha Stooge.

Manthong's picture

Q:  What’s the difference between a yellow hoard and a yellow drone hoard?

A:  A yellow drone hoard does not have to stand on each other’s back to cross the Pacific.

philipat's picture

At least the Chinese population has nothing to fear. The air quality in Beijing is so bad even a drone could't see throught it?

Nadaclue's picture


Burger King is now advertising $0.25 small coffee. Used to be over a dollar and a quarter. Is this an indicator of a loss of consumer consumption at the FF joints? 

Micky D's lowest price is $0.99 for the senior small. The cost per cup is about $0.15 ex labor. Coffee is a high profit margin product. This is way too low of a price for a promotion when not under duress, imho. But, WTF do I know...

I'll be watching this.

just sayin, keep a weather eye...

Matt's picture

Coffee is insanely cheap compared to its sale price, which is why Costco does not sell regular coffee. Costco only marks up goods 15% maximum. $0.25 for a regular coffee is probably profitable and at a reasonable markup, i.e. not 400%.

palmereldritch's picture

I thought the Chinese historically drank tea

old naughty's picture

A "worthy" opponent, 30 years in the making.

It's all "planned".

And, guess what, tea cometh, since coffee is dis-ease plagued?


thisandthat's picture

~10€/Kg at retail (incl. 21% VAT), for a quality blend - an euro sized cup takes ~7g.

Muddy1's picture

"Q:  What’s the difference between a yellow hoard and a yellow drone hoard?"

My yellow hoard is nicely stacked PM's.

Wile-E-Coyote's picture

Another US industry about to be destroyed, when does the US start importing these drones.

thisandthat's picture

So did/does everyone else - or do you think espionage agencies work exclusively for government benefit or are an exclusive of governments?

clara-to-market's picture

No big surprise.

This century belongs to Asia.

Time to bow to your Chinese masters.

newengland's picture


The Politburo fears its populace. Demographics rules, baby. 

Foreign adventures in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Britain will ail you. They hate you.

Best you respect the Constitution, and Declaration of Indpendence...and rule of our laws, pet.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

"They look oddly identical to ours.  Who leaked the blueprints?"

A:  Sum Yung Guy

Teamtc321's picture

Control population in China, Authored by, Will Drone Ya Yung.

wee-weed up's picture

Who leaked the blueprints?

Why... Barry Soetoro, of course!

Muddy1's picture

Don't think so, they wouldn't have the time to build them already.  Now if you want to consider Bill Clinton providing them in exchange for campaign contributions I might buy that.  Perhaps they told Al Gore they were going to use the drones to monitor climate change and air pollution.



Blazed's picture

Speaking of Billy Clinton, here is an article about some early sellout shenanigans during his era. As usual, he was simply the public face, in the manner Bush was, and like Obama is now, the prime movers usually operate in the shadows or in the background.

"Nor is John Podesta the only top Clinton official involved in potential criminal activity with super-computers and Ron Brown. According to documents provided by the Commerce Department, White House official Robert Rubin, and U.S. Trade Rep. Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky were both involved in policy meetings with the CSPP. A May 1994 “CONFIDENTIAL” letter to Ron Brown, partially withheld by the Commerce Department, states the CSPP held a meeting with Brown, Robert Rubin and “Amb. Barshefsky” where super-computer exports to China and Russia were discussed."

GMadScientist's picture

Funny how you skipped a zero-brain, two-termer there.

prains's picture

"They look oddly identical to ours.  Who leaked the blueprints?"


don't worry the onboard cigarette lighter won't work in a month, the door locks will fizzle out in six and the seat controls will seize up

rendering the entire device useless within a year

toady's picture

Drones don't have seats

prains's picture

way to go toady you've nailed the bizarrely obvious, swish nothing but net baby

Wile-E-Coyote's picture

Don't be fooled it may look like a copy but it will be low tech, that's why the Chinese can produce them for $199.99 each. There is no hi tech surveylance equipment on board, only a Chinese midget with a Nikon.

mickeyman's picture

It's because the American drone manufacture was offshored a few years ago. Now all US drones are made in China. :)

sgorem's picture

CHINA DRONE, wasn't that an old Doobie Brothers song?

Zap Powerz's picture

How long before China liberates Americans from their oppressive regime?  Maybe china gets sick of getting screwed over by the USA and decides to do something about that would be anyworse than the shit show we have now.


Ive been drinking. FU

Disenchanted's picture

Uncle Zuzu asked:


"They look oddly identical to ours.  Who leaked the blueprints?"


Israel...or actually Israel probably sold them the blueprints.


Bet me?

From 2002:

U.S. Arms Sales to Israel End Up In China, Iraq


Perhaps the most troubling of all is the Israeli/Chinese arms relationship. Israel is China's second largest supplier of arms. Coincidentally, the newest addition to the Chinese air force, the F-10 multi-role fighter, is an almost identical version of the Lavi (Lion). The Lavi was a joint Israeli-American design based upon the F-16 for manufacture in Israel, but financed mostly with American aid. Plagued by cost overruns, it was canceled in 1987, but not before the U.S. spent $1.5 billion on the project.


Last April, when the Navy EP-3E surveillance plane was forced to land in China after a Chinese F-8 fighter flew into its propeller, photos show Israeli built Python 3 missiles under the fighter's wings.

Tompooz's picture

Makes you wonder what Israel demanded in return from China. Adelson's tentacles up Macao? GS in Shanghai? After all , they have to prepare for the eventuality of the US losing the top dog spot, or, worse, turning against them.

GMadScientist's picture

"Who leaked the blueprints?"


Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Gen1 codename:  Kung Pao series

q99x2's picture

Yipppeee. Now banksters, crooked politicians, NWO elitists and corporatists are all fair game. Let the hunt begin.

Yen Cross's picture

  Long " Gorilla Glass"™

newengland's picture

Modern politicians should read Melville's 'Moby Dick'. If you cannot look your target in the face and kill it, then you are a coward. Respect your target, and be a better more peaceful being.

Drones are better than body bags in the USA, imo. However, it is unconstitutional to wage endless war against foreigners. That is a Zionist wish, endless war for profit.

My family is with the military for hundreds of years, and commerce, and the USA. I tell you this: there has never been a time in the history of the USA when so few CONgressmen served in the military and waged so many wars.

The cowards send better men to war and commerce...while sitting in their DC counting house, exempt from standards applied to all, paid by all, and profiting the DC bastids.

dick cheneys ghost's picture

Fuck these chickenHawk zionist neo-con bastards...........Politics of fear dont work on me


fuck u bill kristol

palmereldritch's picture

Technically Bill is a Neo-Trotskyite, as are most Neo-cons.  It is his historical pedigree.

And as he and his crew are the Bankster's failed heirs to Lenin's hijacking and robbery they feel they have a lot to recover.

newengland's picture

Live and learn. I sympathise with socialists and communists, but think they are fuck tards when they persist with their failed ways, slaughter, tax theft, nation bankruptcy...for their own personal gain while claiming to be altruistic or commercial. Eejits.

Jail 'em. Don't bail 'em.

palmereldritch's picture

Hitler's party was the National Socialist German Workers' Party..if there was ever a red flag (pun intended)...

newengland's picture


We are living in Orwell's time. Resist, we must.

otto skorzeny's picture

hitler didn't give a shit about socialism except that it was a means to an end-he was a realpolitiker who co-opted the name from a small political group he was introduced to that was one of hundreds in politically turbulent 20s Germany.

palmereldritch's picture

Politically turbulent indeed.  Here is one of Hitler's many associates

newengland's picture

Banksters liked Hitler. Socialism, communism, Zionism: all the same thing. One fails, and a new name is put in its place.

Now it is O'bomba.

palmereldritch's picture

So what makes you think O'bomba's drone network is easily defeated?

It appears actually that his technological drone weapon strike force is actually much more pervasive and threatening than anything his Bankster, Hitler, socialism, Zionism masters ever imagined...

As Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote last week about the president's assassination program, "When [the president] kills without due process, he disobeys the laws he has sworn to uphold, no matter who agrees with him. When we talk about killing as if it were golf, we debase ourselves. And when the government kills and we put our heads in the sand, woe to us when there is no place to hide."

Element's picture

The common factor in all '-isms' is the banker and the wretched contraption called 'govt'. It doesn't matter which 'ism' it is, it's largely immaterial as those two factors are the common disaster that awaits all citizens of their systemic exploitations. Why people presume one -ism is less damaging than another -ism I don't know. The major issues of vilification and nastiness seem more cultural and hystery related than '-ism' related and generated.

Communism existed in France for most of the Cold War and some variant of fascism existed in many places for most of the Cold War. Capitalism and Zionism, etc., operated within most of these in parallel to some extent. But always it was the bankers and the Govts that created the social and economic disaster and the mass betrayals of the community, its resources, and asset bases, and abandoned and mistreated the exploited.

Then along come those that survived the corruption/debt cycle, and immediately setup, or allow to be setup the very same systems of bankster and govt exploitation again.

And every time it was the '-ism' that got blamed for how it turned out, last time around. Yet the obvious lessons never sinks through to us, that it's always the manipulation of Govt, in cahoots with money-changers for usury, that lead to all devious corruption and economic collapse, etc. We keep setting up the same structures that keep doing the very same things.  It does not matter if its a dictator or a democracy, it always ends with a corrupt Govt and generally tribal Bankers completely betraying and fleecing the community.

We're not the brightest monkeys.