July 17, 2010:
China is training more of its troops to use UAVs, and developing better ones for the troops to work with. Meanwhile, the best Chinese UAVs are a decade or more behind Western models. One of the more modern, and popular, Chinese UAVs is the W-50. This is a 95 kg/209 pound aircraft with a payload of 20 kg/44 pounds and an endurance of up to six hours. It can operate up to 100 kilometers from its operator and at altitudes of up to 3,000 meters/9,300 feet.
China also has a more modern, but exotic, UAV. This is the 130 kg (286 pound) helicopter Z-3. It has a top speed of 150 kilometers an hour, endurance of four hours, range (from operator) of 100 kilometers and a payload of 30 kg (66 pounds). This is sufficient for day/night cameras, laser designators and the like. Police like these helicopter UAVs, soldiers less so. Police are apparently the main market for this.
Chinese UAVs are cheap, but most of them are a decade or two behind the West in UAV design. An example of this can be found in one of their most numerous models, the ASN-206/207. This is a 222 kg/488 pound aircraft, with a 50 kg/110 pound payload. The 207 model has a max endurance of eight hours, but more common is an endurance of four hours. Max range from the control van is 150 kilometers and cruising speed is about 180 kilometers an hour. A UAV unit consists of one control van and 6-10 trucks, each carrying a UAV and its catapult launch equipment. The UAV lands via parachute, so the aircraft get banged up a lot. A UAV battalion, with ten aircraft, would not be able to provide round the clock surveillance for more than a week, at best. But Chinese planners believe this is adequate. The unit contains repair crews, equipment and spare parts. This UAV can broadcast back live video, and be equipped for electronic warfare.
The lack of persistence (the ability to stay in the air for long periods of time) means the Chinese are unable to use this most important of UAV capabilities. The Chinese are working on new UAVs that are closer to current U.S. designs. China has encouraged development of new UAVs, hoping that some entrepreneurial Chinese firm will produce UAVs similar to the superior American and Israeli models. The Chinese military holds expositions for current UAV designs, and sends officers to examine the goods, and hear the sales pitches. One of these expos featured 52 new UAV designs. Many were very similar to existing models, but some showed imagination and resourcefulness.