The ongoing war in Ukraine has demonstrated the underrated power of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, not just for spying but also for combat. Taking a cue, China unveiled an armed spy drone unit in the northwestern part of the country.
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The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force has unveiled one of its armed reconnaissance drone units headquartered in Northwest China. It is crucial for border protection and counterterrorism, said state-run Global Times citing experts.
According to the report, the unveiling comes after an armed reconnaissance drone operated from a PLA Air Force base in the Northwest Chinese desert practiced surveillance and attack over a long-distance flight of more than a thousand kilometers.
The PLA Air Force has made the GJ-2 medium altitude long endurance armed reconnaissance drone available for public viewing on previous occasions.
The Aviation Industry Corporation of China has independently designed and produced the GJ-2 military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a PLA variant of the popular Wing Loong II drone.
Both small air-to-ground precision attack weapons and electronic reconnaissance devices are mounted on this drone. The location of the drone unit is significant as the Xinjiang autonomous territory, infamous for China’s coercive policies towards the Uyghur population, is also situated in the northwestern part of the country.
Not too long ago, a report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that “serious human rights violations” against the Uyghurs and “other predominantly Muslim communities” have been committed by China in the Xinjiang province. However, the report was derided as false by Beijing.
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EurAsian Times spoke to a PLA watcher and military expert, who, on the condition of anonymity, said, “the location where the unit was unveiled is Hotan Air Base in Xinjiang. However, it was not a new unit at Hotan but a deployment for exercise to a Forward Operational Base. I won’t over-interpret this. We know UAVs in the Western Theater Command for years.”
Une unité de #drone MALE de l'armée de l'air chinoise filmée à Hotan, au #Xinjiang.
Les drones dans ce reportage sont de modèle GJ-2 ("Attaque-2"). pic.twitter.com/K1MlTmuYfD
— East Pendulum (@HenriKenhmann) September 20, 2022
Further, a Chinese military expert told the Global Times that drones deployed in the desert region of Northwest China are more cost-effective than deploying manned aircraft for tasks like border patrol and counterterrorism.
The PLA is using drones in various regions of the nation. According to the defense authority on the island, six different drone types, including the CH-4, WZ-7, BZK-007, BZK-005, KVD-001, and TB-001, were detected in and near the East Chinese island of Taiwan in September.
PLA enlisted version of GJ-2 drone at Changchun Airshow 2022#aviation #AvGeek pic.twitter.com/QJWEKMesja
— Erik Valensvek 🇬🇧🇨🇳 (@EK_Valensvek) August 31, 2022
China also recently unveiled its much-awaited suicide drone by conducting live-fire drills, which has been projected as a Chinese answer to the US Switchblade kamikaze drones.
Not just that, the Wing Loong II or GJ-2 drones have earlier been sighted near Xinjiang. Before the unit came up, satellite images revealed that several armed drones were sighted in front of UAV hangars at the Malan airbase in Xinjiang province last year, as noted by EurAsian Times.
GJ-2/Wing Loong II Drone
The GJ-2, or the Wing Loong II UAV, belonged to the MALE (Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance) category and was developed and produced by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). It is an upgraded version of the Wing Loong 1 UAV.
The GJ-2 UAV includes a redesigned airframe, modernized airborne systems, and an optimized aerodynamic design with superior flight, payload, and information capacity.
A turbocharged engine powers a three-bladed propeller at the back of the GJ-2 UAV MALE. Its top speed is 370 kilometers per hour and an endurance of 32 hours. The drone is outfitted with a satellite communications system and has an operational radius of 1,500 kilometers.
The GJ-2 UAV MALE can carry a maximum payload of 400 kilograms. With a combined weight of 480 kilograms, it can carry up to 12 laser-guided bombs or missiles. In contrast, the GJ-1 can carry just two bombs or missiles of 100 kilograms each.
Daylight and infrared cameras and sensors are built inside the electro-optical payload pod, which is mounted beneath the forward section of the fuselage, allowing it to collect surveillance and targeting information during the day, at night, or in low light.
The GJ-2 UAV MALE is designed for surveillance and aerial reconnaissance duties. It can be equipped with various armaments to carry out combat and strike operations.
One operator uses the consoles to control the UAV from the mobile ground control station remotely. The control station receives payload data from the UAV through a data communications link. It relays the air vehicle, mission planning, and command and control information.
The Chinese combat drone market has grown in size. China began exporting its domestically developed Wing Loong series in 2010, which includes the Wing Loong I, the Wing Loong ID, and the Wing Loong II. By the end of 2018, a total of 100 had been exported.
In 2019, the Chinese official media reported that more than 3,000 rounds of live ammunition had been fired by several clients utilizing drones from the Wing Loong series, with a success rate of more than 90% on both fixed and moving combat targets.
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