A shipborne version of the CH-7 attack drone is said to be under development by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. Photo: Handout

A number of Chinese state-owned military-industrial conglomerates are vying to fly their new versatile drone series tailor-made for future aircraft-carrier strike groups. The backdrop is an emerging buying spree by the People’s Liberation Army to procure fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other warplanes to fill the bigger hangars of the Type 001A carrier, which is set to be commissioned some time this year, as well as another flattop already that is under construction.

Aviation Industry Corporation of China has just repurposed its 601-S low-observable flying-wing UAV series and launched a new variant featuring a jet-powered, bat-like airframe, foldable wings, a fuselage air inlet, and other features that are the hallmarks of a carrier-borne drone.

Kanwa Defense Review speculates that the new UAV could be based on AVIC’s Sharp Sword drone family, and a proof-of-concept design was already showcased at November’s Zhuhai Airshow. In a promotional video clip, it soared into the sky from the ski-jump bow of the PLA’s Liaoning aircraft carrier.

The CH-7, developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, has also received tweaks to its design and specification for shipborne deployment.

A new stealthy flying-wing combat UAV similar to the US Air Force’s X-47B, the CH-7 is capable of cruising at 920km/h at an altitude of 13,000 meters for as long as 15 hours. The powerful assault drone is specifically designed to verify and monitor high-value targets such as hostile command stations, missile launch sites and naval vessels.

The HK-5000G drone from China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. Photo: Handout

State-owned shipbuilder China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, tasked with retrofitting the Liaoning and replicating its design for lookalike sister ship the Type 001A, also debuted its HK-5000G reconnaissance and precision strike drone at the end of 2018. The drone’s twin nose wheel reportedly conforms to specifications of shipborne catapults for assisted takeoffs and can be readily deployed aboard destroyers and carriers.

The HK-5000G has a wingspan of 17 meters and a payload of 500 kilograms with eight-hour endurance at 600km/h.

A vertical takeoff and landing drone is seen above the helipad of the Lanzhou. Photo: PLA Daily

This week, Chinese state media also revealed photos of a mid-sized fixed-wing UAV taking off vertically from the Type 052C guided-missile destroyer Lanzhou in a destroyer flotilla in the middle of the South China Sea.

The new VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) drone sports a unique triple-fuselage design with at least nine propellers. A military observer told the Global Times that the drone’s eight smaller propellers could lift the drone up while the larger propeller could generate thrust, and the design combined the advantages of a rotorcraft and a fixed-wing aircraft.

The unnamed drone could be launched from destroyers, frigates and bigger vessels for reconnaissance and search missions at long ranges.

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