Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA Sept-Oct 2013 Contents DefenceReviewAsia | SEPT-OCT 2013 13
UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES
June 2010, Taiwanese fishermen recovered
the wreckage of a UAV reportedly used in the
counter-radar role. CSIST is believed to be
developing a micro-UAV too.
The undisputed king of surveillance UAVs
is the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk
from the USA. Regionally, the 36th Wing of
the US Air Force (USAF) operates three craft
from Andersen Air Base in Guam. The Global
Hawk flew missions totalling more than 300
hours after Japan's 2011 Tohoku earthquake.
Also of relevance is the US Navy's (USN)
Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS)
programme designed to complement the
P-8A Poseidon in providing a continuous maritime-
surveillance capability. In September 2010, Northrop
Grumman's successful BAMS solution was
designated MQ-4C Triton. The 39.9m-wingspan
system has a 30-hour endurance. The first of 68
MQ-4C craft should enter service around 2015,
and the USN will station them in Hawaii, Florida,
California, Okinawa (Japan) and Italy. The Triton
performed its maiden flight on 22 May 2013.
The introduction of the Triton is of interest
to several countries, including Australia and
Japan. Australia wants seven high-altitude
long-endurance (HALE) craft under Project
AIR 7000 Phase 1B to perform maritime
and land patrol missions in support of
maritime patrol aircraft. To avoid risk and to
promote commonality, Australia is likely to
follow in US footsteps by choosing a craft
such as the MQ-4C. The Australian Army
achieved 45,000 flight hours in Iraq and
Afghanistan with the Insitu ScanEagle, and
last September the Royal Australian Navy
began trialling it for frigate deployments. The
ScanEagle's role is being taken over by the
AAI RQ-7B Shadow 200. The craft was selected
in May 2011 under JP129 Phase 2. It deployed
to Afghanistan for the first time in May last year.
Meanwhile, the Royal Australian Air Force operates
the Heron, including from Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Japan has a couple of strong incentives to field a
HALE UAV -- maritime territorial disputes with China
and the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles.
The Japanese government has registered interest in
obtaining three Global Hawks and could be flying
them by 2015. One Japanese newspaper report
suggested Japan might base them at Misawa and fly
them in conjunction with the USAF.
Considering Japan's technological prowess and
ability to indigenously develop a wide range of
weapons systems, it is surprising that the country
is a relative newcomer to UAV operations. This
weakness was cruelly exposed after the 2011
earthquake. The Japan Ground Self-Defence
Force (JGSDF) moved to rectify this when
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries signed a contract for
a comprehensive evaluation of two ScanEagle
systems. The JGSDF also operates the rotary-
winged Forward Flying Observation System (FFOS)
from Fuji Heavy Industries for battlefield observation.
South Korea, ahead of the scheduled handover
of wartime operational control from the USA in
December 2015, desperately needs to
improve its independent intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)
capabilities. It has been dithering over a
decision to acquire four RQ-4 Global Hawks
because of the extremely high cost of $1.2
billion. Even though the US Congress
has approved a sale, the South Korean
government has delayed any decision
and is considering opening a competitive
bid. Lower-priced alternatives such as
AeroVironment's Global Observer and
Boeing's Phantom Eye apparently failed to
meet Korean requirements. Israel also scents
an opportunity with contenders like the IAI
Heron TP and Elbit Systems Hermes 1500.
The Republic of Korea Army relies on the
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) RQ-101
Night Intruder at the corps level. South Korea has
active UAV research and development programmes,
primarily through KAI and Korean Air. KAI was
awarded a development contract for the KUS-11 in
September 2010 and the first craft are due in 2015.
Designers have a number of innovative ideas such
as UCAVs and the KAI Devil Killer, a 'kamikaze'-style
UAV filled with explosive that can be directed at
In Asia, China is driving UAV
development the hardest. The State Oceanic
Administration commenced trial drone
patrols from Dalian in November 2011.
Last year the agency revealed plans to
operate drones from eleven coastal bases.
The bread-and-butter tactical UAV of the
People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the Xian
ASN Technology ASN-206 and ASN-207.
Another is the ASN-209, which is now also
being produced in Egypt for the military.
Apart from such tactical UAVs, China is
showing great interest in larger, strategic
designs. A report from the US-China
Economic and Security Review Commission
entitled 'China's Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Industry' says, "In the long term, China's continued
interest and progression in strategic-level UAVs
appear poised to position China as a leader in the
high-end UAV market." A design already in service
is the Harbin BZK-005. The larger, developmental
Soaring Dragon Xianglong HALE system is probably
destined for maritime surveillance with an expected
It is known Taiwan has secretive developmental designs such as a Predator-class
unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) able to launch Hellfire missiles.
Surprisingly, considering its technological prowess and ability to indigenously develop a wide range of weapon
systems, Japan is a relative newcomer to UAV operations.
The Magic-Eye is a product of CSIST in Taiwan, and the rotary-wing UAV
has low-observable characteristics. Credit: Gordon Arthur
The Chinese CH-4A is a MALE design from CASC, complete with munitions
stored on four under-wing hardpoints. Credit: Gordon Arthur
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