China’s Only Maker of Cruise Missiles to Develop Drone Capable of Reaching Outer Space

By Arthur Dominic J. Villasanta , | March 18, 2017



An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that might be capable of reaching an altitude of 100 km above sea level will be developed for military use by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), a state-owned firm that is China's largest missile-maker and the main contractor for China's space program.

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CASIC said this drone will fly in the region of the atmosphere known as near space, which lies at an altitude of between 20 km to 100 km. Outer space is begins at an altitude of 100 km above sea level, a boundary that is also known as the Karman Line.

Apart from a near-space drone, CASIC is also bent on developing a long-endurance stealth drone capable of dodging surface-to-air missiles because of its stealthiness. Up until recently, CASIC has sold its drones and drone-based services mainly to civilian companies engaged in geological surveys and maritime reconnaissance.

Wei Yiyin, CASIC deputy general manager, confirmed the company is focusing on the development of a long-endurance stealth drone and a near-space drone.

"As military reforms are drastically changing armed forces around the world, drones have become an indispensable weapon in modern warfare because they can play an important role in high-resolution reconnaissance, long-distance precision strikes, anti-submarine operations and aerial combat," said Wei.

CASIC will strive to develop technologies for long-endurance stealth drones and complete the design of high-speed combat/reconnaissance drones within the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period. It also plans to develop multipurpose, stealth target aircraft used for training.

CASIC will bank on the experience gained in developing its WJ-500, WJ-600 and WJ-600A/D military drones, which are now sold on the world market. CASIC drones all resemble cruise missiles, hardly surprising when one learns the company is China's only maker of cruise missiles.

CASIC's newest drone, the WJ-600A/D, is the fastest aerial drone made in China and can reach a speed of 700 km/h. On the other hand, all other Chinese drones can hit a top speed of less than 300 km/h.

The WJ-600A/D high-altitude, high-speed UAV is designed for reconnaissance and strike. It is equipped with electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar payloads, and can loft small air-to-ground precision weapons with a combined weight of 130 kg. The WJ-600A/D is launched by a rocket booster and recovered by parachute and airbag.

CASIC said the WJ-600A/D has a radar cross section similar to that of a bird. WJ-600 A/D is a development of the CASIC HW-610 and CASIC HW-600 Sky Hawk (WJ-600) aerial drones.

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