The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense (MND) has begun releasing tracking data on long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for its ongoing air and naval military training exercises and patrols around Taiwan.
Such activity is not new and Chinese military UAVs have previously entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ), but the MND only revealed such details for the first time on 4 September, when a medium altitude long endurance (MALE)-class Sichuan Tengden TB001 reconnaissance UAV was detected as part of a group of 45 aircraft that had flown on the east part of the median line of the Taiwan Strait and southwest ADIZ.
On 9 September, a MALE-class Beihang UAS BZK-005 was detected among 12 aircraft that transited the same area, followed by two different UAV types – the tactical-class Guizhou Aviation Aircraft Corporation (GAIC) BZK-007 and KVD-001 (a derivative of the BZK-006) – on 11 September.
On 15 September, the MND detected another two types of UAVs among 26 PLA aircraft that were tracked through the day – a BZK-007 as well as a GAIC WZ-7. Although the latter had been tracked by the Japan Self-Defense Forces over the East China Sea in the past, it was seen for the first time operating in the vicinity of Taiwan on that day.
The WZ-7 – also known as Xianglong (Soaring Dragon) – is a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE)-class strategic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) UAV that is produced by GAIC, a subsidiary of state-owned commercial and defence aerospace prime Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
The WZ-7 was first shown to the public as a concept model at Airshow China 2006, with development understood to have been completed around the mid-2010s. The type is believed to be the PLA Air Force’s primary high-altitude unmanned platform for reconnaissance operations near strategically vital locations and is believed to be roughly analogous in terms of function but not performance with the US-made Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk HALE UAV due to known deficiencies with indigenous turbine engine technology.
The TB001 has also only been recently fielded by the PLA Navy Air Force and was only first seen in August 2021, when the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) had intercepted it flying over the East China Sea in the direction of the Ryukyu Island chain.
The TB001 is developed by the privately owned Sichuan Tengden Technology Company – which is believed to be linked to AVIC’s 611 Research Institute – and is also known locally as the ‘Twin-tailed Scorpion’, with first flight achieved in March 2019.
Regular incursions by Chinese aircraft and UAVs into Taiwan’s ADIZ have escalated since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island, which Beijing claims as its own, in early August.
by Jr Ng