China is developing a drone hunter killer to combat the growing F-35 threat in Asia-Pacific. Handout.

On an imagined battlefield, an F-35 takes off from its base, headed for its target … unaware it is being tracked, by a squad of advanced drones with stealth capabilities.

Deftly launched from a bomber, the drone’s purpose is to jam the intruder and destroy it. Small, undetectable, deadly.

In other words, it’s high-tech noon in the sky, and one of them is going to die.

According to military experts, the LJ-I stealth target drone China recently showcased at the 2019 Russian International Aviation and Space Salon (MAKS) in Zhukovsky, will provide the Chinese military with experience encountering stealth fighter jets like the F-35, and possibly more in the future.

Exhibited at the Northwestern Polytechnical University booth, the LJ-I is a high-subsonic target drone that is capable of simulating a fourth-generation — or fifth-generation according to another commonly used classification — fighter jet.

The LJ-I is stealth-capable, can fly for an extended period, has high maneuverability and is equipped with electronic countermeasures and jamming capabilities, according to a statement the university sent to the Global Times at MAKS 2019.

The 4.7-meter long, 2.5-meter wide drone is also cost-efficient, the statement said, noting that multiple LJ-Is can also build a formation to simulate real combat.

China’s Xi’An CCKW Development Company displayed a model of a jet-powered tactical target drone, called the LJ-I. Handout.

Sources say it can sustain up to 9Gs — or 6Gs for 30 seconds. It has a flight endurance of 60 minutes. Its cruising speed is between 400 knots (741 km/h) and 533 knots. The aircraft lands using a parachute.

These features enable the target drone to do its intended job: act as a target, but an advanced one could simulate the world’s latest stealth warplanes like the F-35, an anonymous military expert told the Global Times. A weapon that can’t be seen, is a weapon to be feared.

The US has been selling the F-35 to its allies in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, with the US itself also deploying the fighter jet on aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.

Military analysts said that the US is trying to form an “F-35 friends circle” in the region, which could become a threat to China’s national defense.

By having the stealth target drone, China could practice techniques and tactics, and develop new weapons based on training results; the People’s Liberation Army could gain experience encountering a stealth fighter jet, the expert said, noting that China will be prepared for a potential clash with hostile stealth fighters.

Some experts say the F-35’s biggest strength, is also it’s biggest weakness — it is essentially a computer in the sky. And computers, as we all know, can be hacked.

According to Fighter Sweep, every F-35 in the world, whether belonging to an American branch of the military or a foreign ally, relays information back to the US via at least two secure networks. The first of these networks is the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS.

Military experts say the Achilles heel of the F-35 are its highly-computerized weapons systems, which, could potentially be hacked. Handout.

The latter serves as an automated logistical support system that tracks issues within each individual F-35, the location of spare parts, and repair assets worldwide. ALIS allows the rapid repair or maintenance of F-35s without delays caused by parts shortages or waiting on equipment.

Enemy operatives that gain access to the ALIS system could wreak havoc on repair and maintenance scheduling, making many aircraft non-operational. The bigger threat, however, would be using the ALIS network to locate F-35s around the world and gain important information about the operations they’re involved in.

The second publicly acknowledged system is the Joint Reprogramming Enterprise, or JRE, which provides a constantly updated library of adversary weapon systems and capabilities intended to help better inform F-35 pilots as they head into the fight.

Hackers gaining access to this system could potentially bring it down, leaving the F-35 without one of its most valuable tools, or even change the data it provides to indicate gaps in defenses that aren’t really there. In effect, the JRE could be used to lure unsuspecting F-35 pilots into a trap.

In an animated video shown as part of MAX-2019, an H-6K bomber released several LJ-I drones, which went on different routes to attack an 052D destroyer. Despite the “stealth” functions of the UAV (simulating an F-35 or F-22), the destroyer was able to locate drones using its radar system, launched rockets to destroy those that attacked from above, and fired from a melee weapon to bring down the one that was sliding above the surface of the sea.

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