The development of unmanned aerial vehicles is growing apace, especially in China. New longer range ISR platforms are also on the procurement list of several nations.
Regional military forces continue to develop and field unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as part of ongoing modernisation efforts, with an eye on applications – such as border/maritime patrol and surveillance – where extended range and loiter performance is desired.
While contemporary tactical and medium-altitude long endurance (MALE)-class UAVs have traditionally served in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, there is an emerging interest in developing more capable systems that can undertake higher-end missions such as air-to-air combat, electronic warfare, and long-range strike.
Indeed, market forecaster Teal Group estimates in its 2020/2021 study that global military UAV research spending could be worth up to $64.5 billion over the decade on the back of new technologies. In addition, the company noted that the next generation of systems is being developed at a time when the UAV market is expanding rapidly due to liberalised US export regulations, affordable and accessible Chinese exports and a growing demand for armed UAVs.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is aggressively pursuing unmanned and autonomous aircraft development, with its three services simultaneously managing broad range of development and acquisition programmes from pocket-sized ‘nanocopters’ to high-end medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) and high-altitude long endurance (HALE) platforms, and even ‘loyal wingman’ combat systems.
Unmanned systems will also be a core element of the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) Plan Jericho, an ambitious project which seeks to transform the service using future high technology systems.
Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle: In operational use aboard the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN’s) Adelaide-class frigates and equipped with Sentient Vision Systems’ visual detection and ranging (ViDAR) equipment for on-demand maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). Also known to have been integrated aboard the lead Leeuwin-class hydrographic survey ship HMAS Leeuwin.
Schiebel Camcopter S-100: Used by the RAN for operational training and development ahead of a future phase of Joint Project 129 that aims to inform the selection of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV platform for its future Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and Hunter-class frigates.
AeroVironment RQ-12 Wasp AE: Acquired for the Australian Army’s Project Land 129 Phase 4 small UAV requirement. Australia announced a contract for an unspecified number of Wasp AE mini-UAVs, which can operate for up to 50 minutes out to a range of five kilometres (three miles), with the aim of equipping every combat team.
FLIR Systems PD-100 Black Hornet II: In service with the Australian Army. The palm-sized Black Hornet systems are being used as platoon-level reconnaissance assets.
Boeing Airpower Teaming System (BATS): The 38 feet (11.7 metres) long BATS features a design range of around 3,700km (2,300 miles). Australia is investing $22 million (A$28 million) in the development programme with Boeing building three prototypes in Australia. The company announced in late February that first prototype had performed its maiden flight in Woomera.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B SkyGuardian: The DoD downselected the MQ-9B SkyGuardian for its AIR 7003 requirement for an armed UAV capability. In April 2021, the US State Department approved a potential $1.65 billion Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of up to 12 weapons-ready MQ-9B systems, along with a sensors and weapons package and related equipment and services.
Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton: Six Tritons UAVs were acquired in separate deals between 2018 and 2019. These are expected to enter service in mid-2023 and fully operationalised by 2025 and will support the RAAF’s Boeing P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft in long-range maritime surveillance.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)
North Korea earlier acquired several types of Chinese and Russian-made UAVs, but has since started local manufacture of the Chinese ASN-104 design, known locally as the Panghyon I, as well as the improved Panghyon II based on the ASN-105. Reports also indicate that the DPRK is developing a long-endurance UAV, with South Korean officials claiming that “numerous test flights” by such prototypes have been detected since early 2016.
Xi’an ASN Technical Group ASN-104/D-4: In service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and DPRK army for tactical missions such as front-line reconnaissance and electronic jamming.
Panghyon I and II: Domestically manufactured versions of the X’ian ASN-104 (described above) and ASN-105 UAVs. The Panghyon II is essentially the same airframe but incorporates an extended range control system.
Yakovlev OKB Pchela-1T: Developed in the early 1990s to meet a tactical surveillance and electronic countermeasures requirement, the Pchela-1T adopts a pusher-propeller propulsion arrangement and carries a TV camera with zoom lens. It is believed that the DPRK acquired up to 10 of these UAVs.
Taiyuan Navigation Technologies Sky-09P: The Sky-09P is powered by a two-blade propeller driven by a tractor engine mounted in the nose. It is now likely that the DPRK is locally manufacturing the type, following the acquisition of several of these UAVs in the 1990s.
The Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) presently operates leased UAVs – the Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle and the indigenously developed Alliance Unmanned Developmental Research Aircraft (ALUDRA) Mk1 tactical UAV. The country is looking to expand its use of UAVs – particularly by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) as it seeks cost-effective measures to monitor developments in the South China Sea, Straits of Malacca, and the Sulu Sea near Sabah.
Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle: The RMN will eventually operate 12 ScanEagle UAVs transferred under the US Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) programme. In April 2021, it stood up a new unit, Squadron 601, to operate the new systems. Six air vehicles have already been delivered, with the remaining systems expected by the end of 2021.
Unmanned Systems Technology (UST) ALUDRA Mk1: The ALUDRA Mk1 leverages on earlier development on the SR-1 and SR-2 UAVs from the early 2000s. At least 15 systems are believed to be operated under lease since 2006, with UST as main contractor.
Thales España Fulmar: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) acquired six Fulmar UAVs for its latest New Generation Patrol Craft (NGPC) in 2016. The MMEA-specific model will carry a high-resolution video camera with automatic target tracking capabilities.
Unmanned Systems Technology (UST) ALUDRA Mk2: The ALUDRA Mk2 is intended to be acquired by the MAF, although this requirement appears to have lapsed with the armed forces still operating the Mk1.
The Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw) is believed to be operating a range of Chinese, Israeli, and Russian-made UAVs, with several examples being highlighted in the coup that it launched against the civilian government in February 2021 as well as ongoing military action against rebel groups along its borders.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) Cai Hong/Rainbow (CH)-3: CASC’s CH-3 UAV, developed by its China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) subsidiary. Between 10-12 CH-3 UAVs are believed to have been acquired by Myanmar. An example was seen overflying Mandalay city to monitor protest activity in late March.
Elbit Sytems Skylark I-LEX: It is believed that Israel supplied a number of hand-launched I-LEX UAVs to Myanmar following an official visit to Israel around 2015. However, Israel has reportedly ceased to provide further UAVs and associated support over human rights concerns since 2018.
Spetsialny Tekhnologicheski Tsentr (STT) Orlan-10: Russia will reportedly supply an unspecified number of Orlan-10E reconnaissance UAVs to Myanmar as part of a broader deal that also includes Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and radar systems. An identified UAV with a comparable profile was also seen being used to monitor civilians in March.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has expressed its desire for aerial ISR UAVs in its Future Land Operating Concept 2035 paper, which outlines potential challenges for its armed forces in the next decade and beyond.
A similar desire had also been highlighted by the NZDF in its latest 2016 Defence White Paper, which has proposed $14 billion (NZ$20 billion) out to around 2030 to enhance the capabilities of its various services, although both documents do not offer any specific timelines or preferred systems.
The Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) has also indicated an interest to field a maritime UAV aboard its Otago-class OPVs, which would greatly benefit from an organic high-speed surveillance capability for their extended maritime and economic exclusive zone (EEZ) patrols. However, no formal requirement has been raised to date.
In November 2018, NZDF chief Air Marshal Kevin Short noted in a televised interview that the service is seeking a new UAV capability by the mid-2020s.
Skycam UAV Kahu: The Kahu has been designed as a high performance, aerodynamically efficient mini-UAV that is equipped with an autopilot system designed by the New Zealand Defence Technology Agency. It is presently operated by the New Zealand Army and can carry a range of high performance still, motion video and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, with a flight endurance of two hours and a range of 25km (15 miles).
India has been involved in UAV development for over two decades, with research and development (R&D) organisations and defence companies such as Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), developing UAVs with ISR, targeting, and weapon guidance capabilities for decades.
IAI Heron: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is known to operate at least 20 Heron MALE UAVs for long endurance ISR missions, with the first examples delivered in 2001 and additional aircraft acquired since to equip army regiments situated along the disputed Sino-Indian border. The Indian Navy (IN) is believed to operate at least 12 Heron UAVs, with a number of these located at its Porbandar facility on the west coast to monitor the waters off Karachi. Taken together, the total number of Mk I and Mk II Herons in Indian military service likely exceeds 50 units.
IAI Searcher Mk II: All three services of the Indian armed forces have also been operators of the tactical-class Searcher Mk II UAV since 2001. The MkII variant features extended-span wings and an AR 682 rotary engine that provide improved flight endurance over the earlier model.
DRDO Rustom I/II: The DRDO’s Rustom programme aims to produce an indigenously developed multirole MALE UAV to equip all three Indian military services. The platform is expected to undertake long-endurance missions, including communications relay, ISR, maritime patrol, as well as artillery fire direction and battle damage assessment (BDA).
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Predator B Guardian: Up to 22 units of the Guardian, an unarmed maritime variant of the MQ-9 Reaper MALE UAV system, worth $3 billion could be acquired for the Indian Navy under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.
HAL Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) Warrior: The CATS Warrior is a concept that adopts a similar configuration with the US XQ-58A Valkyrie and is currently envisaged as a low-observable, multirole unmanned combat air vehicle that can be commanded from a Tejas light combat aircraft. The concept was unveiled at Aero India 2021.
Indonesia has maintained a stated need for UAVs for several years in a bid to shore up defences across its huge territorial waters, which include around 17,000 islands. Attempts to procure and indigenously develop UAV platforms for the Indonesian armed forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI) have been hindered by a lack of industrial and technical capabilities as well as financial constraints.
Aeronautics Defense Systems Aerostar: The TNI-AU operates an Israeli-made tactical UAV that features a stabilised, gimbal-mounted day/night electro-optic sensor, and a CommTact datalink. This type is being operated by the service’s Aviation Squadron 51 based near the city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation Cai Hong-4 (CH-4): The Indonesian Air Force has taken delivery of at least four CH-4 armed UAVs, which have been equipped with satellite communications systems that enable these air vehicles to operate out to 2,000km (1,243 miles). Indonesia is understood to have signed for six CH-4 UAVs as well as associated technology transfer.
PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI)/Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) Wulung: The Wulung UAV programme, which began in 2004, originally sought to produce an indigenously developed UAV to perform a variety of civilian missions across the country’s extensive archipelagic territory, from illegal fishing and logging surveillance to cloud-seeding missions and supporting firefighting activities.
PDTI Elang Hitam (Black Eagle): PTDI revealed in December 2019 that it is leading the development of an indigenous armed MALE UAV called the Black Eagle, which features a 52ft (16m) wingspan and a MTOW of 2,866lb (1,300kg). According to PTDI, the air vehicle will eventually be capable of 30-hour flights and carry up to 661lb (300kg) of mission equipment and/or weapons.
Although the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) is widely seen as one of the most technologically advanced defence forces in the Asia Pacific, it is interesting to note that its present UAV capabilities have been for many years comparatively modest compared to regional peers such as China and South Korea. However, since 2014 the country has outlined a series of initiatives to grow its indigenous UAV development capabilities, with the aim of introducing new and more capable air vehicles that can perform persistent ISR and early warning missions across it vast maritime domain and airspace.
Yamaha R-MAX Mk IIG: A rotary UAV first developed as the R-50 from 1983 for commercial agriculture and entered service in 1991. The more advanced R-MAX featuring an improved engine, flight stability, and safety functions was introduced in late 1997. An evolved version, G-1, was introduced in October 2005 and certified in January 2008. This was followed by a military variant, the MkII, which entered service with the JSDF ground units.
Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk: Japan has acquired three confirmed plans to purchase three RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30i (international) Global Hawk HALE UAVs at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion. These will be equipped with the Raytheon Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite (EISS) and expected to be delivered by 1 September 2022. The first Japanese Global Hawk performed its maiden flight from the company’s Palmdale facility on 15 April.
Pakistan has attempted to acquire Western made UAVs since the early 2000s, but it was not until 2006 before it acquired the German-made Luna and Italian Falco UAVs. Concerted efforts to develop its indigenous UAV production capabilities have also borne fruit, with a number of domestically produced systems already in service with the Pakistan armed forces.
Advanced Computer Engineering Services (ACES) Uqab II: The Uqab II is a tactical short-range UAV system developed from the Eagle Eye and has an operational range of 150km and a ceiling of 10,000ft (3,048m). The Uqab UAVs have GPS-based navigation and tracking systems that can be pre-programmed and altered during flight.
Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle: Pakistan has acquired an unspecified number of ScanEagle UAVs under a $15 million FMS contract awarded in September 2015. Deliveries of the ScanEagles commenced from the third quarter of 2016 to the Pakistan Navy.
CASC CH-3: At least 20 Chinese-made CH-3 UAV systems are believed to have been delivered to Pakistan in 2011. See CH-3 entry in People’s Republic of China section.
EMT Luna: The fixed-wing Luna is a short-range battlefield reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition UAV with a flight endurance of approximately six hours and an operational radius of 100km (62 miles). At least three systems have been acquired for the Pakistan Army.
Leonardo Falco: Originally developed by Selex ES/Finmeccanica, the long range Falco UAV comprises a fuselage module that supports a fixed tricycle undercarriage, shoulder-mounted gull wings and a rear-mounted pusher engine. Deliveries of the Falco to the Pakistan Air Force is believed to have been completed in 2008 with service entry in 2009.
Global Industry and Defence Solutions (GIDS) Burraq: Claimed to be a fully indigenous development by the state-owned National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM), the Burraq appears to be heavily inspired by the Chinese-made CH-3 tactical UAV. The Burraq entered service with the Pakistan Air Force in November 2013 and is equipped with two underwing hard points, which can be used to launch a variety of munitions including Barq laser-guided missiles.
Global Industry and Defence Solutions (GIDS) Shahpar: Adopting a similar airframe configuration with the Burraq, the Shahpar is optimised for ISR missions and does not feature an offensive capability.
Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) ZF-1 Viper: Promotional material of the ZF-1 Viper stealthy unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) concept emerged in May 2019, depicting a blended wing design with a 18m wingspan and a 35,274lb (16,000kg) MTOW, which is expected to achieve a maximum speed of 533kts (988km/h) and a service ceiling in excess of 30,000ft (9,144m), while carrying a 661lb (300kg) payload up to a range of 500km (310 miles). The effort is part of Pakistan’s ‘Project Azm’ which seeks to develop next-generation military aviation capabilities.
People’s Republic of China
Chinese industry has introduced scores of unmanned systems over the past decade, mainly produced by state-owned defence primes such as the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and CASC, although the number of private firms involved in military and dual-use UAV development has also increased significantly. However, many of China’s military UAV programmes continue to be shrouded in secrecy.
AVIC Wing Loong-1/Gongji-1: Developed by AVIC’s Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI) subsidiary, the Wing Loong-1 is a MALE-class UAV that shares a close physical semblance to the US-made RQ-1 Predator. The air vehicle – which is designated the Gongji-1 (GJ-1) in People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) service – has a payload capacity of 440lb (200kg) and can carry munitions, such as the indigenous HJ-10 anti-armour missile, CS/BBE2 110lb (50kg) high-explosive bomb, and LS-6-50 small-diameter bomb.
AVIC Wing Loong-2/Gongji-2: The PLAAF revealed in November 2018 that it has fielded the Wing Loong-2 MALE UAV with the in-service designation of Gongji-2 (GJ-2). Performance is believed to remain largely unchanged from the export Wing Loong-2 platform, although the GJ-2 can be differentiated with its lack of wingtip devices.
Wuzhen-8 (WZ-8) and Gongji-11 (GJ-11): The PLA made a surprise unveil of two hitherto unknown special mission UAVs at a military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of China’s founding. Although no official information has been released, the WZ-8 is believed to be powered by two solid-state rocket engines and designed to be launched by a host aircraft such as the H-6 bomber. In contrast, the GJ-11 is believed to be derived from AVIC’s Lijian (Sharp Sword) UCAV development albeit improved with a blended fuselage that features enclosed exhaust nozzles. Close-up imagery indicates that the air vehicle is equipped with two internal payload bays.
Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA)/ Harbin Aircraft Industry Group (HAIG) BZK-005: The multirole BZK-005 MALE UAV is specifically designed for long-range reconnaissance missions. It is believed to be in People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) service, and this was proven in April 2018 when the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force announced that it had photographed a BZK-005 flying over the East China Sea to the north of Taiwan.
AVIC Guizhou WZ-7 Xianglong (Soaring Dragon): The Xianglong is believed to be the primary HALE UAV operated by the PLAAF for high-end ISR missions and is often compared to the US-made RQ-4 Global Hawk.
AVIC Wing Loong II: Unveiled at Airshow China 2016, the Wing Loong II has an overall length of 36ft (11m) and wingspan of 67ft (20.5m). The air vehicle has a stated internal payload capacity of 440lb (200kg), with provision for up to 1,058lb (480kg) of external stores, and can operate for up to 20 hours. It reportedly made its maiden flight on 27 February 2017, with AVIC announcing that it had secured an unidentified international customer on the same day.
Beihang Unmanned Aircraft System Technology TYW-1: The export-oriented TYW-1 is a strike-capable MALE UAV that is based on the in-service BZK-005. It features a 816lb (370kg) payload capacity and is equipped with four underwing hard points, with a flight endurance of up to 40 hours.
CASC CH-3: The CH-3 is a tactical-class UAV with a MTOW of 1,433lb (650kg) and can be armed with up to two air-to-surface munitions. It features a distinctive cranked arrow has found regional success with Myanmar and Pakistan acquiring a number of these systems for armed reconnaissance missions. The company has also developed civilian variants for applications such as geological survey and low-level aerial mapping.
CASC CH-4: Inspired by the US-made RQ-1 Predator, development of the MALE-class CH-4 UAV commenced in 2009, with the first production-ready example rolled out in 2014. Glass fibre-based composite materials are used extensively to reduce the overall weight of the air vehicle as well as its radar cross-section (RCS). Two variants are currently offered: the CH-4A, which is configured principally for reconnaissance missions with a flight endurance of 30 hours; and the strike-oriented CH-4B, which can carry a 760lb (345kg) weapons payload but has a shorter flight endurance of 14 hours. At least 30 CH-4s – valued at $700 million – have been exported worldwide since 2014.
CASC CH-5: Also unveiled in its production-ready form at Airshow China 2016, the CH-5 features a lightweight all-composite airframe that measures 37ft (11.3m) long with a wingspan of 69ft (21m) and bears a striking resemblance to the US MQ-9 Reaper UAV. The company claims it can carry a maximum payload of 2,645lb (1,200kg). The air vehicle has a stated flight endurance of over 40 hours, although a heavy fuel variant with an extended endurance of 60 hours is under development. The company has specified an operating radius of 250km (155 miles) via line-of-sight control, although this can be extended to 2,000km (1,242 miles) when a SATCOM datalink is fitted.
AVIC AV500W: Under development by AVIC’s China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI), the AV500W is a modified version of the civilian model AV500 VTOL UAV with a more robust structure and improved performance. Armed versions of the AV500 have been tested by the PLA Ground Force.
CASC CH-7: CASC is developing a HALE-class UCAV with a MTOW of 28,660lb (13,000kg). Broadly comparable in terms of shape with the Northrop Grumman X-47B, the CH-7 is designed to penetrate heavily contested airspace to perform ISR or strike missions.
Tengoen Technology TB001 ‘Twin Tailed Scorpion’: A new starter in China’s UAV industry, Tengoen took the opportunity at the 14th China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Exposition in in Nanning in September 2017 to unveil its twin-engine, twin-boom TB001 armed reconnaissance UAV. The TB001 has a stated maximum range of 6,000km (3,728 miles) and an endurance of 35 hours, and is equipped with two hard points under each wing. State media reported that the prototype air vehicle performed its maiden flight just days after its public unveiling in Nanning.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) have in recent years made significant efforts to boost AFP capability. The AFP initially adapted commercial drones for tactical ISR support but has since fielded Israeli- and US-made military systems.
AeroVironment RQ-11B Raven: The Philippine Army has taken delivery of the RQ-11B Raven system comprising three UAVs as part of a United States-supported counterterrorism support programme.
Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle: The Philippine Air Force (PAF) received several ScanEagle UAVs from the US, which were handed over in ceremony held at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City in March 2018. These are operated by 300 Air Intelligence and Security Wing (AISW) out of Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan.
Elbit Sytems Hermes 450: The Hermes 450 is a tactical-class UAV with a MTOW of 1,212lb (550kg) and a 34ft (10.5m) wingspan. An unspecified number of these air vehicles were acquired under a $153 million package announced in October 2019.
Elbit Sytems Hermes 900: The Hermes 900 is the first MALE-class UAV platform to be acquired by the Philippines, featuring a MTOW of approximately 2,645lb (1,200kg) and a 49ft (15m) wingspan. Nine of these air vehicles were acquired under a $153 million package announced in October 2019. All nine systems are believed to have been delivered by the end of 2020.
Elbit Sytems Skylark 3: The Skylark 3 is a tactical ISR platform that is launched via a pneumatic launcher. An unspecified number of these air vehicles were acquired under a $153 million package announced in October 2019.
Elbit Sytems Skylark I-LEX: The hand-launched I-LEX is a stealthy, battalion-level ISR UAV acquired under a $153 million package announced in October 2019. According to the company, the type is designed for tactical surveillance and is almost inaudible at altitudes of 328ft (100m) or higher.
Elbit Sytems Thor quadrotor UAV: The Thor is a quadrotor VTOL UAV that is designed for military and homeland security missions. The Philippines acquired 1,000 Thor UAVs under a $153 million package announced in October 2019.
Republic of Korea
The Republic of Korea (RoK) is one of a handful of Asia Pacific countries that possess advanced aerospace industries and are pursuing wide ranging unmanned aircraft system development programmes. Present domestic development efforts largely centre on MALE-class platforms for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) and Republic of Korea Army (RoKA), the introduction of an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) capability, as well as vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), and tiltrotor platforms.
Beyond serving the needs of its armed forces, the country aspires to be one of the leading manufacturers and exporters of world-class UAV systems, with key government agencies and industry primes such as the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), and Korean Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD) spearheading efforts to advance its UAV technology base.
KAL-ASD Korean Unmanned System-7 (KUS-7) /RQ-102: KAL-ASD is believed to have delivered 16 complete systems – each comprising four UAVs – by the end of 2020. The RQ-101is designed for short take-off and landing operations, and can stay aloft for 24 hours. It is equipped with automatic target tracking capability with an effective range of up to 10km (six miles).
Elbit Systems Skylark II: Elbit’s Skylark II is a larger and more capable version of the hand-launched Skylark I with an endurance of six hours and an operational radius of approximately 59km (36 miles). The system typically comprises up to two air vehicles, associated payloads, and a truck-mounted rail launcher and GCS.
Foosung Group/UCON Systems Remoeye: The RoKA signed a contract with Foosung Group for its RemoEye 002B mini-UAV in 2013, with deliveries of 120 systems – each comprising four air vehicles – commencing in the third quarter of 2015. The electrically powered air vehicle has an range and endurance of 10km (six miles) and 60 minutes, and is equipped with a nose-mounted, stabilised electro-optical infrared payload with pan and tilt scanning.
IAI Heron 1: IAI announced in December 2014 its Heron 1 was selected for the RoK armed forces’ corps-level UAV requirement. An unspecified number of these air vehicles are understood to be operated by the RoKA. At least one of these air vehicles have been reported performing reconnaissance missions over the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).
KAL-ASD KUS-FC: Very little is known about the stealth-optimised, turbojet-powered KUS-FC UCAV. The company has stated a wingspan of approximately 52ft (16m) and a flight endurance of six hours at the ADEX 2017 exhibition in Seoul, but has withheld further information.
KAL-ASD KUS-FS: Also known as the Medium-Altitude UAV (MUAV), the KUS-FS MALE UAV is being developed for the RoKAF and is in the same class as the US MQ-9 Reaper UAV. The multirole air vehicle is expected to perform missions such as communications relay, electronic warfare (EW), ISR, as well as signals intelligence (SIGINT).
KAL-ASD KUS-VH: KAL-ASD is developing a rotary-wing unmanned platform based on the MD-500 light attack helicopter. Flight endurance is extended to four hours with the installation of a large fuel tank in place of the rear passenger seats. If successfully developed, the KUS-VH could potentially support manned/unmanned-teaming operations with the RoKA’s AH-64E Apache Guardians, which already feature the ability to command UAVs.
KAL-ASD KUS-VT: An unmanned tiltrotor aircraft developed jointly with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) and based on the TR-60 system. The KUS-VT can carry a 66lb (30kg) payload and has an operational radius of 200km (124 miles) with an endurance of six hours. It is expected to perform autonomous VTOL and shipboard operations.
Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk: The RoK has acquired four RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawks along with two GCS systems and two spare engines under a $657 million FMS contract. All four aircraft have been delivered by September 2020.
Republic of China (Taiwan)
The Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) has been reluctant to adopt unmanned technologies, with no UAVs known to be currently in service. The country’s largest and most capable UAV, the tactical-class Abatross/Chung Shyang II, is operated by the Republic of China Navy (RoCN). The country’s UAV development efforts are led by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST).
NCSIST Cardinal II: The Cardinal II is a small hand-launched UAV that is understood to be in Republic of China Army (RoCA) and RoCN service. The air vehicle is powered by an electric motor and can stay aloft for up to 60 minutes.
NCSIST Albatross/Chung Shyang II: Around 32 Albatross UAVs were acquired for the army under a $120 million contract inked in 2010. The type received performance and reliability upgrades following the lost of three air vehicles from 2013-2015, and was subsequently transferred to RoCN service.
NCSIST Teng Yun: The prototype of a new MALE-class UAV was revealed at the 2015 Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE), which appears to be modelled after the US RQ-1 Predator platform. An updated and more robust prototype was subsequently rolled out at TADTE 2019. At least three Teng Yun prototypes were constructed, with one of these destroyed in a crash in February 2021.
With a perennial shortfall in manpower, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) see technology as a critical force multiplier with the ongoing modernisation effort focusing deeply on the integration of command and control, ISR, and precision strike. In that regard, UAVs are considered a key enabler for the SAF’s transformational initiatives.
Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle: The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) operates the ScanEagle UAV as part of the upgrade and life extension of its six Victory-class missile corvettes, providing these vessels with an organic airborne ISR capability. The air vehicle is launched via a pneumatic launch catapult installed on the aft deck. A Skyhook recovery system is fitted just astern of the superstructure to snare the returning vehicle in mid-air.
Elbit Systems Hermes 450: The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) has operationalised a number of Hermes 450 tactical UAVs in March 2015, which were first delivered in 2007. The RSAF’s Hermes 450 UAVs are operated by 116 Squadron, which is based at the western Tengah Air Base.
IAI Heron 1: The RSAF’s primary long-range UAV is the MALE-class Heron 1 UAV, which was introduced in May 2012 and replaces the ageing IAI Searcher tactical UAV. The service’s Heron 1 UAVs were declared fully operational in March 2017, and are operated by the 119 and 138 Squadrons.
ST Engineering Skyblade II/III: The Skyblade II is described as a short-range mini-UAV. The 11lb (5kg) air vehicle is hand-launched and parachute-recovered and is powered by a hybrid propulsion system and has an endurance of one hour and operating radius of up to 8km (five miles). The Skyblade III is a 11lb (5kg), man-portable UAV can be transported in two backpacks weighing 44lb (20kg) each. It can be readied for flight within 20 minutes and launched by hand, flying for up to one hour out to a range of 8km.
DSO National Laboratories V15: The V15 is Singapore’s first locally developed fixed-wing surveillance UAV with a VTOL capability. Unveiled in November 2017, the V15 is equipped with a day/night camera and is designed specifically for use in urban environments where conventional UAV take-off and recovery is a challenge. The V15 has a three hour endurance and has also demonstrated an ability to take-off and land on a moving unmanned ground vehicle.
ST Engineering Stinger: The Stinger Unmanned Aerial Multi-Rotor Gunship is envisioned to be a semi-autonomous, company-level reconnaissance and fire-support platform. The company is aiming for an endurance of over 30 minutes when carrying high-definition daylight and thermal imaging cameras, a fire-control system (FCS), and a 5.56mm calibre Ultimax 100 Mk8 light machine gun.
ST Engineering Veloce 15 (V15) and Veloce 60 (V60): The land systems division of ST Engineering unveiled the Veloce family of fixed-wing VTOL UAVs that are designed to offer the tactical advantages of VTOL with high-speed conventional flight. The V15 and V60 have respective MTOWs of 35-37lb (16-17kg) and 110-154lb (50-70kg) and are designed to be quickly transported and assembled.
Since the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, the country’s armed forces have been tasked with an increasing spectrum of missions, including air defence, strike, and cyber warfare, but is primarily geared towards providing tactical air support during COIN and naval interdiction operations. To this end, the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) maintains a range of UAVs that have supported the ground forces for more than a decade.
IAI Searcher: Operated by SLAF’s 111 UAV Squadron, the long-endurance Searcher UAV is believed to have conducted 265 sorties in support of ground troops during the civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam from 1983 to 2009.
EMIT Aviation Consult Ltd Blue Horizon II: An unspecified number of the long-endurance Blue Horizon II tactical UAVs – which have a flight endurance of 24 hours and an operational radius of up to 150km via a datalink – have been acquired after a 2009 request from the Sri Lanka government. These are believed to be operated by the SLAF’s 112 UAV Squadron.
Thailand’s requirement for improved intelligence gathering has increased in recent years, with a concomitant growth in indigenous UAV research and development capability. The state-run Defence Technology Institute (DTI) is spearheading efforts to grow its indigenous UAV production capabilities and spur innovation within the local defence industry, with technical assistance from countries including China and Israel.
Aeronautics Defense Systems Aerostar: The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) fielded its first UAV, the tactical-class Aerostar as part of the military’s wider effort to introduce surveillance and reconnaissance UAVs into service to support its fighting forces. Local media reported that a new unit, 404 Squadron, was created at Takhli to operate the
AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven: The Royal Thai Army is believed to have acquired around 12 of these hand-launched mini-UAVs in 2010 for tactical ISR missions.
RTAF Research and Development Centre for Space and Aeronautical Science and Technology Tigershark II/U-1: Designed around 2015, the medium-range Tigershark II tactical UAV is stated to have an operating range of up to 150km (93 miles) while carrying a 66lb (30kg) payload. Ministry of Defence reportedly awarded a $18 million contract in 2016 to procure parts for up to 17 Tigershark II UAVs.
R V Connex RTAF U-1: The RTAF has fielded the indigenously developed U-1 tactical UAV based on technologies derived from the earlier Tigershark II and Sky Scout developments. The company is also integrating lightweight air-to-surface missiles to the air vehicle, with a potential candidate being the Thales Lightweight Multirole Missile.
Royal Thai Navy (RTN) Naval Research and Development Office Tarem: Unveiled at the 2017 Thailand Defence & Security Exhibition in Bangkok, the multi-rotor Tarem tactical UAV is being developed by the Thai Naval Research and Development Office for communication and surveillance missions.
Vietnam is pursuing self-sufficiency in UAV development and production by leveraging on its considerable indigenous aerospace and communications R&D capabilities provided by the state-owned Vietnam Aerospace Association (VASA) and telecommunications company Viettel Group.
Aeronautics Group Orbiter: Vietnam reportedly acquired two Israeli-made Orbiter 2 and Orbiter 3 mini-UAVs between 2014 and 2015 to boost the situational awareness and targeting abilities of its artillery and coastal-defence missile units.
Viettel Group Patrol VT: Viettel unveiled its Patrol VT tactical UAV in 2014. The air vehicle, which is developed by the company’s Flight Instrument Centre, is stated to be capable of operating out to 50km (31 miles) and carries an optical infrared camera that provides real-time transmission of high-definition imagery. It is now in service with the Vietnamese armed forces.
Academy of Science and Industry/Ministry of Public Security HS-6L: Vietnamese media have reported the existence of the HALE-class HS-6L, which has a twin-boom airframe and a wingspan of 72ft (22m). Stated performance include a range of up to 4,000km (2,485 miles) and a 35 hour flight endurance. A prototype was reportedly completed by November 2015 with flight testing occurring during the second quarter of 2016.
Viettel Group armed reconnaissance UAV: A mock-up of a new MALE-class UAV featuring a twin-boom airframe design was unveiled during a display of Vietnamese military equipment at the end of September prior to the launch of the 11th Party Congress in late September 2020. A variety of weapons associated with the UAV was also showcased.
by Jr Ng