| 22 May 2024, Wednesday |

China unveils ‘loyal wingman’ armed drone concept

China unveiled a drone design on Wednesday that is comparable in duty – and appearance – to the United States’ Kratos Valkyrie, as countries compete to invest in “faithful wingman” drones to protect more expensive crewed fighter jets.

According to Wu Wei, a spokesperson of China Aerospace Science Technology Corp’s (CASTC) Feihong product line, the long-range FH-97 drone design revealed on Wednesday can carry a variety of weaponry and has swarm and electronic warfare capabilities.

In his presentation at the Airshow China in Zhuhai, he did not disclose any specifics.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Russia are among the nations working on “faithful wingman” drones, which are less expensive and more replaceable than crewed jets.

Although numerous foreign observers observed the presentation, CASTC did not share technical details of the FH-97 concept or specify whether it was designed for export.

The FH-97 looks almost identical to the Kratos XQ-58A, which flew for the first time in 2019. The XQ-58A has a Mach 0.85 top speed and a range of approximately 2,200 nautical miles.

Zhang Zhongyang, vice president of CASTC said the plan was to turn Feihong into an “international top-notch brand… and become a major player at the centre stage of the world arena.”

China has exported military drones to countries including the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Serbia.

“The chief customer is certainly the PLA, but in recent years the Chinese are also aggressively marketing these systems for exports,” said Collin Koh, a defence research fellow with Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

China also used the country’s biggest air show to display the weapons capability of one of its most advanced stealth attack drone projects, the GJ-11.

The Global Times reported that the GJ-11 on display at the show had its two weapons bays open for the first time. Inside each were four unidentified munitions that appeared to be precision air-to-ground glide bombs.

Bradley Perrett, a specialist on Asian aerospace and defence, said the GJ-11 was designed to slip undetected through radar coverage and attack heavily defended targets.

“In doing that, it would take the place of a much larger and more expensive fighter with a pilot,” he said. “Development won’t be easy, but when it’s complete the type will present a new threat to Taiwan and potentially Japan.”

Chinese companies have 27 drone exhibits at the Zhuhai show.

  • Reuters