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Is China Building Stealth Swarm Drones for a Naval War?

Military Drones Threat
A Kazakh Air Force CAIG Wing Loong during a Defender of the Fatherland Day parade on Independence Square in Nur-Sultan.

A recent Chinese state television video, which was shot at the Zhuhai Airshow that ended earlier this month, “shows what appears to be a video presentation depicting navalized derivatives of the GJ-11 Sharp Sword stealthy unmanned combat air vehicle employing air-launched decoys to swarm a pair of surface warships,” according to Joseph Trevithick at the War Zone.

The beginning of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) video shows “one of the apparent GJ-11 derivatives taking off from the deck of what looks to be a Type 075 amphibious assault ship.”

The writer mentions that the first of these particular ships entered service only earlier this year and that two more are currently under construction. In all, there could be at least eight of these ships in operation in the future.

Fixed-Wing Unmanned Aircraft

“This is immediately intriguing in that it indicates that the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) may be interested in operating fixed-wing unmanned aircraft, including unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV) like the GJ-11, from its Type 075s, in addition to flying them from the decks of its growing fleet of supercarriers. Last year, what looked to be a mockup of a drone helicopter had appeared on the deck of the first of these amphibious assault ships while it was still undergoing initial trials ahead of its commissioning,” Trevithick writes.

“The video then moves on to show a flight of four of these UCAVs deploying air-launched decoys. The general exterior shape of the decoys is extremely similar to that of Raytheon’s ADM-160 Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) series, which you can read all about here. MALDs are essentially small cruise missiles that have electronic warfare suites in lieu of traditional warheads, which, depending on the exact variant, allow them to jam enemy radars or attempt to fool their operators into believing that large groups of aircraft or missiles are coming at them from various directions,” he continues.

Trevithick adds that the video “even mimics those from Raytheon itself promoting the MALD family, which often show the decoys morphing into ‘ghost’ aircraft as a visual representation of the false signatures these decoys pump out. In the case of the Chinese footage, the aircraft depicted may be intended to represent a long-rumored, but still not officially confirmed navalized variant of the FC-31 stealth fighter.”

Through the years, China has demonstrated considerable progress in the development of several drone- and aircraft-related technologies, which include swarming capabilities and stealthy unmanned plane designs.

Increased Sophistication

Last month at the annual Air Force Association Air, Space, and Cyber Conference, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall noted that the Chinese government is “increasing inventory levels and the sophistication of their weapons and modernizing redundant systems throughout the kill chains that support their weapons.”

He continued: “Hypersonic weapons, a full range of anti-satellite systems, plus cyber, electronic warfare, and challenging air-to-air weapons” were among the heavily focused areas.

Trevithick concluded that “while we can’t say how close China may be to acquiring the capabilities seen in the AVIC video, they are certainly in line with the country’s general ambitions, as well as its steadily growing ability to turn them into operational realities.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Written By

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Marina Teramond @ NMPL

    November 2, 2021 at 4:09 am

    To tell the truth, China is standing out with its rapidly developing technologies and this country was able to show us many crucial scientific and technical achievements. After reading your article, I was even more convinced of this, but was amazed by this news at the same time because, for me, it is a huge breakthrough and progress. Honestly, I feel that China is really close to acquiring the capabilities seen in the AVIC video and this country will be able to implement them into a reality, blowing our minds. I think that China will do it in the most innovative and unique way because they have all the necessary prerequisites for this.

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