Taiwan quietly testing possible shipborne UAV

Unidentified Taiwanese UAV being tested by NCSIST,

Taiwan’s Formosa TV News Network has captured video imagery of an unidentified unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) being tested by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST).

In a news segment aired on 21 June, Formosa TV said the new UAV – which has a distinctively different physical profile from the Republic of China Navy’s (RoCN’s) in-service Albatross tactical UAVs – was seen flying over Hengchun Township in Taiwan’s southernmost Pingtung County.

RQ-21 lookalike

The unknown air vehicle is visibly similar in terms of airframe design and size with the US-made Boeing-Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack, featuring a main fuselage pod that supports an under nose electro-optical payload, shoulder-mounted wings located mid-fuselage, and a rear-mounted engine that drives a two-bladed pusher propeller.

Booms attached to the underside of each wing support the air vehicle’s tail assembly. The Taiwanese UAV is however, clearly differentiated here from its US counterpart with an inverted V-tail assembly as opposed to the latter’s vertical tails with a high-mounted tailplane.

Launch and recovery methods appear to be comparable, with the Taiwanese UAV clearly not equipped with a conventional undercarriage that would enable it to take-off and land on a runway.

The air vehicle was instead seen with a pneumatic catapult launcher and what appears to be a stowable skyhook-type recovery system. Taken together, these features indicate that the air vehicle is likely being developed for the RoCN’s current and future surface combatants.

Current UAV

The RoCN presently operates the Albatross tactical UAV, which is also developed by and manufactured by NCSIST. Around 32 Albatross UAVs were originally operated by the RoC Army (RoCA)’s Aviation and Special Forces Command from 2010, although several had been lost during operations over the years. The surviving air vehicles were subsequently transferred to the Naval Fleet Command in September 2017.

Unlike the unknown UAV which is clearly designed to be deployed from naval vessels, the larger Albatross platform – which has a take-off weight of 450 kg and has a wingspan of 8.7 m – has a conventional undercarriage and requires a runway for take-off and landing, with its operational radius over water impacted by the location of available runways.

by Jr Ng