Warplanes: China Accommodates To Win


December 12, 2017: In November 2017 China revealed a new version of the BZK-005 UAV. The original entered service in 2006 with the Chinese Navy as a 1.2 ton UAV with a 150 kg (330 pound) payload, a cruising speed of 170 kilometers an hour, a satellite link (in addition to a line-of-sight radio link) , and an endurance of up to 20 hours. In late 2013 the Japanese Air Force fighters confronted one 800 kilometers from the Chinese mainland headed for Okinawa. The BZK-005 could do this because it used a satellite link for control and was capable of getting to Okinawa, patrolling near the island for about 8 hours and returning. Japan warned China that if any of their UAVs violated Japanese air space they would be shot down. China responded that it would do the same. BZK-oo5s have also been seen operating from new Chinese bases (often artificial islands) in the South China Sea.

In addition to the improved BZK-006 China also revealed was a new UAV, the TYW-1. This one is similar in layout as the BZK-005 but larger and capable of carrying weapons. TYW-1 is a 1.5 ton aircraft that can carry 370 kg (814 pounds) of sensors and weapons. It has a wingspan of 18 meters (56 feet) and four hard points under the wings for missiles. Top speed is 200 kilometers an hour, max altitude of 7,500 meters (24,000 feet) and up to 40 hour endurance.

The TYW-1 is similar to the U.S. Army MQ-1C which weighs 1.5 tons, carries 135.4 kg (300 pounds) of sensors internally, and up to 227.3 kg (500 pounds) of sensors or weapons externally. It has an endurance of 30 hours and a top speed of 270 kilometers an hour. MQ-1C has a wingspan of 18 meters (56 feet) and can carry four Hellfire missiles (compared to two on the earlier Predator) or a dozen smaller 70mm guided missiles. China likes to follow the same development path of foreign systems it is copying, but do it faster and with a few embellishments. A new, Block 2 version of MQ-1C entered service in 2016 with a better engine, fifty percent more fuel capacity, over 75 percent more endurance (from 30 to 53 hours), and its payload increased by 50 percent from 372 kg (798 pounds) to 558 kg (1,227 pounds). The fuselage has been modified to handle the increased fuel load and has greater reliability and stability in the air. The additional internal space makes it easier to install a Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) that makes it possible to fly in airspace used by civilian manned aircraft. MQ-1Cs have always had flight control software that handles takeoffs and landings automatically and this software has been very reliable, as have the MQ-1Cs themselves with readiness levels comparable to manned aircraft. The MQ-1C is used by the U.S. Army although similar seized Israeli UAVs regularly perform naval reconnaissance.

China also revealed new electronics, including an optical sensor similar to those found in Western targeting pods and UAVs. The Chinese device was described as capable of reading a license plate from 50 kilometers away while the UAV was at 5,000 meters altitude (beyond the range of most anti-aircraft weapons).

The BZK-005 and TYW-1 are typical of several UAV models built in China that are similar to the American MQ-1A Predator. The MQ-1A entered service in 1995 as a 1.1 ton UAV with two hard points and max payload of about 200 kg. Wingspan was 15 meters, max altitude of 7,500 meters and endurance of 24 hours. It had a satellite link and was the first armed UAV, able to carry two Hellfire missiles or up to six smaller laser guided missiles. A slightly larger MQ-1B entered service in 2005 and production of Predator continues, with about 400 built or on order so far. The air force stopped buying Predator in 2012 and switched to the 4.3 ton MQ-9 Reaper. The U.S. Army began using a Predator variant, the MQ-1C, in 2009 and plans on buying over 300.

China is selling some of its Predator size UAVs in large numbers (several hundred) and is willing to cooperate with customer preferences. That means no restrictions on who they will sell armed UAVs to or the use of TCAS systems for UAVs meant to operate in airspace containing a lot of manned aircraft. China will do whatever it takes to make a sale, including setting up UAV assembly plants in customer countries and transferring technology.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close