One of the biggest surprises at this year’s Paris Air Show, was the appearance of AVIC’s Wing Loong II unmanned combat air vehicle. It looked every inch an airborne bomb truck and with the capability of carrying more than 1,000kg that’s just what it is.
Biggest export order
Clearly the company supported by CATIC believes that there is a market for the aircraft here. A spokesman from CATIC told me that although all the weapons in front of the UCAV were Chinese, it would be just as happy to integrate western payloads if required. Whether the manufacturers would provide the interface control document (ICD) which allows the weapon to ‘talk’ to the UAV and vice versa is another question. Most western countries would have security concerns over providing such information.
Both the smaller Wing Loong I and larger II having gained maturity in operations with the PLAAF. AVIC, working with the UAV manufacturer Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADRI) has now adapted both to the export market. At last year’s Chinese air show at Zhuhai, where we saw the Wing Loong II displayed publicly for the first time, the chief designer Li Yidong revealed that the II had secured the biggest export order in UCAV history. Unfortunately, he declined to say which country had bought it. There has speculation that several middle eastern countries have acquired Wing Loong II but no one would confirm this, although they did add that some customers have enquired about building their own assembly line. The Wing Loong II might not yet be quite as capable as the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, but being non-ITAR its bound to have a massive market. With a synthetic aperture radar and EO/IR turret, which has an integrated laser designator it is an attractive option for many. There has been much speculation that both the Wing Loong I and II have been operational, probably with the Saudi military in Yemen. A Saudi-led coalition is trying to oust the Iranian backed Houthi militia which overthrew the government, for over two years now.
The WL I’S maximum take-off weight (MTOW) is 2,645lb (1,200kg) whereas the Woong-Loong II’s MTOW is three times higher at 9,240lbs (4,200kg), with a maximum payload of 1,058lbs (479kgs).
The II has six hardpoints, although at Paris only four were shown due to rules governing the payloads of UAVs in the west. At Zhuhai each hard point was fitted with a quad-launcher so the aircraft could carry 24 x 16kg (35lbs) bombs. Weapons displayed in front of it included 250lb GB-3s, Blue Arrow 7 and Blue Arrow 21 air-to-ground missiles.
Having displayed the Wing Loong II internationally, at the Mexican air show in late April, AVIC felt that it should be displayed at Paris too. The large display of weapons in front of the aircraft at Paris, showits capabilities.
“What is on the UAV is subject to customers’ requirements”, I was told “we have everything for all budgets.”
There were ten weapons on display, including the 50kg Blue Arrow (BA) 7 believed to be the weapon of choice in Yemen, which can be ‘lazed’ onto the target by its EO/IR turret with an in-built laser designator. At the other end of the spectrum was the radar-guided YJ-9E anti-shipping missile, which will be integrated soon. According to one source I spoke to at Paris the Blue Arrow 7 has been the weapon of choice and fired more than 1,000 times in anger.
One particularly weapon of interest was the radar-guided YJ-9E anti-shipping missile, although it has not yet been integrated, it would certainly provide a new role.
The low-cost laser guided 16kg TL-2 missile, can be mounted on the UAV’s triple launcher racks on display. “Sometimes you don’t need the bigger more expensive 50ib weapons, to hit the smaller mobile targets which is when the TL-2 can come in handy.” Integration of the missile is expected to be completed later this year.
Another impressive addition is the TV guided 50kg CM-502 which can provide customers a new option. The medium sized 50kg laser guided AG-300/M (medium size), is also set to be integrated. It will have the ability to alter its flight trajectory while in flight.
There were two LS-6 bombs on display, 50kg and 100kg versions, which adds even further options. The 50kg free fall GPS guided FT-9 is a cheaper bomb and not quite as accurate so handier for convoys are gatherings, which sat next to the laser guided 25kg FT-10, and while they were different in war loads, they were the same size. “This is because we wanted the FT-10 to keep the same flight control characteristics as the FT-9” my source told me.
While the Wing Loong II on display, has only four pylons under the wings, the real aircraft can be fitted with six, as was seen at Zhuhai Airshow, and has the capability to carry over 1,000Ibs of payload. Inside the front of its fuselage is a synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which can data-link imagery to the ground station. There are plans to add an electronic warfare capability, when the requirement is needed, however right now, most customers are concentrating their finances on the air to ground role.
Finishing off the source told me: “Many will start flying the Wing Loong II with the most basic of weapons and as they increase their training and confidence, we can upgrade their weaponry for their more sophisticated operational requirements”
Meanwhile the next international appearance for the Wing Loong II along with its smaller brother the Wing Loong I will be the Dubai Air Show in November, where they are bound to be an even bigger hit! Alan Warnes