July 14, 2011:
Chinese warships were recently seen, for the first time, operating UAVs at sea (over a thousand kilometers south of Okinawa). Japanese P-3 maritime reconnaissance aircraft spotted a fixed wing UAV taking off, using rockets, from a destroyer , and landing in the water, being recovered via a net. This UAV appeared to be a navalized version of the most numerous model used by the Chinese army; the ASN-206. This is a 222 kg (488 pound) aircraft, with a 50 kg (110 pound) payload. It has a max endurance of eight hours, but more common is an endurance of four hours. Max range from the control equipment is 150 kilometers and cruising speed is about 180 kilometers an hour. This UAV uses a catapult to launch itself from the helicopter deck of a destroyer or frigate. The UAV lands via parachute, so the aircraft get banged up a lot.
The U.S. Navy has been doing this for two decades, but is switching to helicopter UAVs, and is currently using the MQ-8B (formerly the RQ-8) Fire Scout. The first to carry this helicopter UAV was a Perry class frigate, the USS McInerney (FFG-8) two years ago. Assigned to the 4th Fleet, and this ship operates in the Caribbean, chasing drug smugglers. Prior to this assignment, the Fire Scout underwent 110 takeoffs and landings on the frigate, and 600 hours of flight testing.
The MQ-8B can stay in the air for up to eight hours at a time (five hour missions are more common), has a top speed of 230 kilometers an hour, and can operate up to 230 kilometers from its controller (on land, or a ship.) The MQ-8B is also being used on the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
Chinese firms have also developed helicopter UAVs, but none have been seen on warships yet.