Images suggest WZ-8 UAV in service with China’s Eastern Theatre Command | Jane's 360
|Source: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images|
Photographs have recently emerged indicating that China's recently paraded WZ-8 high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has been assigned to the People's Liberation Army Air Force's (PLAAF's) 30th Air Regiment, which operates from Luhe-Ma'an air base near Nanjing: the capital of China's eastern Jiangsu Province.
The images, which were published by Chinese state media during rehearsals for the 1 October parade in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, showed two examples of the triangular-shaped UAV bearing serial numbers 21311 and 21312.
Five-digit serial numbers adhering to the format 21x1x indicate that the platforms bearing them, including some H-6M strategic bombers, are operated by the 10th Bomber Division (30th Air Regiment) within the Eastern Theatre Command, which faces Taiwan and Japan.
For the 1 October parade, however, the serial numbers on these two WZ-8 UAVs were either removed or at least covered.
The WZ-8, which was paraded on flatbed lorries, is powered by two engines but the absence of any air intakes indicates that it is not air breathing. Securing arrangements on top of the fuselage show that it is designed to be carried aloft by a host aircraft, most likely the H-6, and it is fitted with conventional landing gear, as Jane's reported.
The H-6N features a modified section under its fuselage and there had been some speculation that in the fly-past it would carry an air-launched ballistic missile. This was not the case and it may be that the modification is to enable carriage of the WZ-8, although no confirmation of this has emerged.
WZ-8 high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
It was first reported and rumored in September 2015 that an unmanned supersonic cruising vehicle featuring a turbojet/ramjet combined cycle engine (TBCC) and developed by the 611 Institute was tested for the first time. The vehicle was carried under the belly of an H-6 carrier. After being released, it climbed up into the stratosphere with the help of a solid rocket booster. Then it cruised at an altitude of >30km while at a speed of >Mach 3. After the supersonic flight the vehicle glided back to the base and landed safely. A recent satellite image (June 2018) indicated that a triangular shaped high altitude/high speed UAV was entering the service with PLAAF as a strategic reconnaissance UAV (WZ-8) similar to American D-21.
WZ-8 was unveiled during the military parade celebrating China's 70th anniversary on October 1, 2019. However the UAV appears to be powered by twin liquid fuel (hydrazine based) rocket engines (YF-50A?) instead of a turbojet/ramjet engine. It might also feature a conformal SAR radar in the leading edge of its wing and dorsal SATCOM antennas for real time HD image transmission.
Currently WZ-8 is in service together with the PLAAF H-6M bomber (possibly the carrier) unit in eastern China facing Taiwan and Japan (S/N 21x1x). It was rumored that the UAV already flew secret recon missions near Taiwan as well as the disputed Senkaku Islands in East China Sea. Some specifications (estimated): cruising speed 3,500km, cruising altitude: 40,000m, range: 1,500km.
- Last Updated 10/3/19