China, having claimed most of the South China Sea for itself, has published a new report that suggests helicopter drones could soon be deployed to its militarized islands.
The AV500W vertical take-off and landing unmanned helicopter manufactured by Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has completed its first-night operation under challenging conditions, showing that the new helicopter drone is ready for serious production and future deployment.
Global Times said the AV500W test flight was conducted on June 14 in South China's Hainan Province. The helicopter drone performed a night-time mission to identify a vessel with its electro-optical sensors.
"During its flight, the AV500 overcame challenging environments including strong winds and high salinity and humidity, AVIC said in the statement, noting the operation proved the drone helicopter's capability to operate at night."
During a test several years ago in Northwest China's Gansu Province, the helicopter climbed to an altitude of 16,400 feet, demonstrating its superior flight capabilities.
A military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Thursday that the new helicopter drone is set to be offered to domestic and international clients.
The expert said the drone could carry out a patrol, reconnaissance, damage evaluation, and attack missions.
The drone successfully conducted a missile firing test in 2018, making it combat ready, and appealing to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) controlling the militarized islands in the South China Sea, otherwise known as Spratly islands.
The AV500W, AV500 and XM20 drone helicopters complete successful test flights over the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. pic.twitter.com/9sx1iMg975— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) November 25, 2017
The AV500W can carry 385-pound payload and fly a little over 100 mph carrying laser-guided missiles or machine guns, AVIC said.
Since the PLA doesn't have helicopter drone gunships patrolling the South China Sea, the US Navy who conducts freedom of navigation missions near the Spratly islands might one day be greeted by a helicopter drone from China.