China boosts military UAV development with new R&D facility

Aerospace Times Feihong Technology Corporation (Feihong), a subsidiary of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), announced on 10 January that it is building a new integrated research and engineering facility for next-generation unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development.

Feihong is an offshoot of CASC’s Ninth Academy, also known as the 13th Institute or China Aerospace Times Electronics Corporation (CATEC).

The new facility will be operated by a newly incorporated entity called Aerospace Times Feihong Testing Technology Company, which was set up in Baotou City in Inner Mongolia. According to Feihong, the new entity will also perform flight testing, training, and maintenance support.

“The [new facility] will promote the interconnection and efficient utilisation of unmanned technology resources in various units and fields such as universities, scientific research institutes and users, to enhance the integration of industry-university-research capabilities, lead the development of cutting-edge technologies for unmanned systems such as simulation and integration, artificial intelligence, and digital twins, and provide strong support for promoting the innovation and development of China’s unmanned system industry,” the company said.

Earlier at the Airshow China exhibition in November 2022, Feihong unveiled a new variant of its Feihong-97 (FH-97) loyal wingman UAV featuring several visible design updates from the version shown at Airshow China 2021, which appears to have been inspired by the US-made Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie.

The FH-97A recently showcased, however, featured engine inlets on either side of the aircraft as opposed to the single large Valkyrie-type air inlet on the top of the FH-97. The newer model’s wings have also been visibly modified.

Conceptual imagery depicts the FH-97/97A as an attritable, deep penetration unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) that can be used to support tactical aircraft as a forward-deployed scout or strike platform. For example, its internal weapons bay can accommodate several FH-901 Loitering Missiles, which are comparable with loitering munitions such as the US-produced AeroVironment Switchblade, which can be employed against air defence systems and soft-skinned vehicles.

by Jr Ng