China Shows Supersonic UAV, Bombers, and SAMs

 - October 2, 2019, 4:15 AM
Two examples of the WZ-8 supersonic UAV were shown. Note the pylon hooks and rocket motor exhausts. (Photo: Chen Chuanren)

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) unveiled a host of new air, land, and sea weaponry at the military parade on October 1, which celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. As the nation showed off its jet-powered unmanned systems, of particular interest was the WZ-8 supersonic unmanned aerial vehicle.

Revealed publicly for the first time, the delta-winged craft measures approximately 20 feet in span, and its most distinctive features are two bell-shaped exhausts of the kind related to a rocket propulsion system. The sleek design is absent of air intakes, but two pylon hooks suggest the possibility of an air-launched vehicle, likely carried by a Xian H-6K/N bomber. The UAV is intended for high-speed reconnaissance in high-threat and contested environments, before returning to base and landing on a retractable undercarriage.

Other systems on show included the Sharp Sword jet-powered unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), now designated as the GJ-11, as well as an unidentified jet UAV and a tactical UAV designed for electronic warfare and countermeasure purposes.

Another first at the parade was the Xian H-6N, an improved version of the H-6K that reportedly flew in December 2016. The bomb bay doors have been removed and replaced with a concave belly recess, which analysts believe could be used for the carriage of DF-21D ballistic missiles. The H-6N has also gained an inflight refueling probe, a first in the H-6 series. This is especially useful since the bomber would most likely be taking off with a lower fuel load when the heavy DF-21 is loaded up. The refueling capability, paired with cruise and ballistic missile armament, gives the H-6N the endurance to strike virtually anywhere in areas of interest in the Pacific region. The Harbin Z-20 utility helicopter, similar in appearance to the UH-60 Black Hawk, was also shown publicly for the first time at the parade, although examples were first noted with People’s Liberation Army Air Force serials in November 2017.

HQ-17A
The HQ-17A system was shown in the parade, mounted on a 6x6 vehicle. The highlight of the parade, however, was the UAV echelon, with several systems making their first public appearance, including the GJ-11 Sharp Sword stealthy UCAV. (Photos: Chen Chuanren and Xinhua News Agency)

On the ground, the PLA showcased its improved and networked air defense systems. The Chinese have modified and improved the HQ (Hongqi, Red Flag)-17, a local copy of the Russian 9M330 Tor. Redesignated as the HQ-17A, the new missile launch system is now equipped with solid-state track and fire control radars and mounted on a 6x6 armored vehicle. The cold-launched missiles have a range of around 12 km.

Also part of the “outfield air defense system” is the HQ-16B missile. First developed in 1999 and initially designed as a ship-launched system, the HQ-16B is now vertically launched from six tubes mounted on a 6x6 truck as a land-based SAM. It can achieve a range of 40 km at Mach 4 and is reported to have a single-shot kill probability of 89 percent. Older systems such as the HQ-6A short-range SAM, HQ-12A medium-range SAM, and the land-based LD2000 close-in weapon system are now described as a single networked entity to protect assets against all threats over a wide engagement range.