China has recently unveiled drones capable of taking off from ships to conduct patrol and possibly combat or attack missions at recent trade shows, according to the British military armaments journal Jane’s Defense Weekly.
The VD200, China’s first drone to take-off and land vertically, showed off its capabilities for the first time at an international trade fair in Chengdu. The flying-wing drone can remain airborne for up to eight hours and lands on pods attached to its four vertical fins instead of wheels like conventional drones. It was built by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) to be deployed by the coast guard from patrol vessels.
The VD2000 has capabilities similar to small tactical helicopter drones but not their vulnerabilities, according to the report.
A recent Guizhou trade fair also unveiled the Harrier II unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) which can carry bombs and missiles on its four wing pylons. It was built jointly by CAIG and Guizhou Aircraft Corporation (GAC), but its capabilities are so similar to those of the US MQ-9 that Washington Free Beacon alleged that it was developed using technology stolen from US defense contractors. The allegation may be based on more than the similarities between the two drones. A 2012 NY Times report on the successes of a PLA hacking unit in accessing the computer systems of numerous US defense contractors over a period of several years.
Military analysts have long prophesied an era of unmanned fighter and attack jets. The capability to control such vehicles on long-range missions relies on a network of satellites to provide the necessary link with controllers on the ground. The recent rollout of the 16-satellite Beidou navigation and communication system puts China in a position to deploy long-range drones, at least in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite its recent rapid advances, most experts believe China’s UAV technology remains several years behind that of the drone-happy US.