Asian region UAV capability on the rise

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry is one of the fastest growing military aviation markets.

20th Dec 2012


 Asian UAVs

 Asian region UAV capability on the rise

Byline: Guy Martin / Johannesburg

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) industry is one of the fastest growing military aviation markets. The Asia-Pacific region in particular is investing in these highly useful aircraft on a grand scale, either by buying foreign designs or, in many cases, producing aircraft locally. China, India, South Korea and Pakistan are making notable progress in this regard.

In 2011 the region was the second largest buyer after the United States, spending US $590 million on UAVs, according to Frost & Sullivan, which predicts that the region could spend US $1.4 billion per year by 2017. Almost every Asia-Pacific country has UAVs in service or is flirting with the possibility of acquiring them.

Australia

Australia has fielded a number of UAVs, and many of these have seen operational deployment in Afghanistan. The Australian armed forces are leasing Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron I UAVs via Canadian Company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates to support a three platform Army and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan, from December 2009. These are used extensively to support Australian and Coalition forces, flying 4 000 hours in their first year of operation. The Heron lease was recently extended to 2012.

In May 2011 Australia requested two AAI RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV systems from the United States and has spent A$169.5 million acquiring 18 examples. These are used by army aviation and were deployed to Afghanistan in March 2012. Pending the delivery of the RQ-7s, the Insitu/Boeing ScanEagle was deployed to Iraq in 2006-8 and has been deployed in Afghanistan since 2007. They have flown more than 32 000 hours on 6 200+ missions there.

Other UAVs used by the Australian Defence Force include eight Elbit Systems Skylark Is, ordered in November 2005, and subsequently deployed to East Timor and Iraq (further orders have been placed); four AAI Aerosonde IIIs, which were sent to the Solomon Islands on Operation Anode with the Australian Army in 2003; and 18 Codarra Advanced Systems Avatar UAVs. These were acquired from 2001 and deployed to East Timor in 2003.

Australia may acquire more UAVs in the future. Project Air 7000 Phase I calls for eight new maritime patrol aircraft and seven UAVs to replace the current P-3 Orions by 2018. Trials are being undertaken with the ScanEagle, Aerosonde and Schiebel Camcopter on Navy vessels. The recently-released Defence Capability Plan calls for plans to bring forward by three years the acquisition of high altitude, long endurance (HALE) UAVs, with the Global Hawk being the most likely contender. The RAAF would like seven large UAVs by 2019. Australia has previously evaluated the AeroVironment Aqua Puma, and Heron I for the Border Protection Command.

New Zealand

New Zealand makes minimal use of UAVs, but the Army is running a programme to develop UAV doctrine and technology, using the locally developed Skycam Kahu hand-launched micro UAV since 2006, of which two systems have been acquired. The Kahu has been used in Afghanistan.

India

Israel has been the main supplier of UAVs to the Indian military, which have used them operationally for some time, notably in Kashmir and on the border with China (China also uses UAVs extensively to monitor Indian activity on the border). The Indian Armed forces operate at least 150 UAVs – this includes the Navy, which has land-based UAVs for maritime surveillance. Several dozen IAI Searcher I and II UAVs are in service with the Army and Navy. The latter has at least a dozen Heron I/IIs operating alongside its Searchers. These were ordered in 2005. The Indian Air Force also has some Heron Is in service. Other Israeli UAVs fielded include the Harpy, 30 of which were delivered from 2005, and the IAI Harop loitering munition. Ten were ordered by the IAF in 2009 for US$100 million, with deliveries from 2011. They will become operational in 2013.

Indigenously, the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) have developed the Lakshya high-speed reusable target drone, with around 100 in service from 1998. An improved Lakshya-2 is under development while a reconnaissance version with cameras and Satcom link is being built. A number of indigenous UAV systems are under development, including the DRDO Rustom I with a 12-15 hour endurance. The first (successful) flight was in October 2010 (the prototype crashed in November 2009). This is being developed for all three services and will also be turned into an unmanned combat air vehicle (Rustom-II). The DRDO/ADE in 1990 began development of the Nishant UAV, with the first flight in January 1995, followed by an order for a dozen in 2005. Deliveries of this 4.5 hour endurance aircraft to the Indian Army should be completed in 2013/14. Several hand launched and quadrotor designs are also under development by DRDO/ADE, such as the Imperial Eagle and Pawan micro-UAVs.

Pakistan

Meanwhile, across the border Pakistan has a fairly strong indigenous UAV industry, with local companies producing a variety of small and medium UAVs for commercial and military use. The military has great demand for UAVs in order to monitor the Kashmir region and keep an eye on militants, particularly in the mountainous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Some of the main unmanned aircraft companies in Pakistan include Integrated Dynamics, East West Infiniti and state-owned Air Weapons Complex and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. Satuma (Surveillance and Target Unmanned Aircraft) is a major manufacturer, having developed the Jasoos, the larger and more capable Flamingo, and Mukhbar (a shorter-range version of the Jasoos). The Jasoos is in turn a development of the Air Weapons Complex Bravo+, which has been in Pakistan Air Force service since 2004. The Bravo made its public debut in March 2001.

Global Industrial and Defence Solutions (GIDS) at the IDEAS show in November 2012 showcased its Shahpar 470 kg (1 000 lb) UAV, with an endurance of seven hours. The aircraft is apparently ready for production and will complement GIDS’ Uqab tactical UAV, which is flown by the Pakistan Navy and Army (entering service with the latter in 2007). The Pakistan Navy is also procuring the Integrated Defence Solutions (IDS) Huma rocket-launched UAV, based on the Uqab. This has been developed into the improved Huma-1 and Huma-2 with an endurance of 5+ hours.

Pakistan’s state-owned National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) is developing the Burraq UAV, which will be fitted with a laser designator and laser-guided missiles, but the status of this programme is uncertain. Pakistan had hoped to acquire a dozen RQ-7B Shadow UAVs in three systems but this procurement project seems to be on hold. In collaboration with Selex Galileo, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex has started manufacturing the Falco UAV. In June 2012 the Pakistan Navy bought eight EMT LUNA UAVs from Germany – the Army acquired the system in 2006, which is essentially an unmanned motor glider.

China

China is investing heavily in UAVs and has a wide variety in service. In 2008 the Predator-like Chengdu Pterodactyl 1/Yilong was first seen. It is believed that development concluded in 2009 with production the following year. This medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV can be armed with AR-1 air-to-surface missiles.

Xian ASN Technology is China’s largest UAV manufacturer and has developed a number of different models that are in service, including the piston ASN-206 and improved ASN-207 (series production began in 1996 for the People’s Liberation Army), ASN-104/5B, and twin-boom pusher ASN-209 (called Silver Eagle in Navy service).

Believed to have been in service since 2009 is the BZK-005 MALE UAV with a roughly 40-hour endurance. This was developed by the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Harbin. Other models in service include the IAI Harpy loitering munition, controversially sold to China in 1994, the China Aerospace Science Industry Corporation (CASIC) jet-powered WJ-600 maritime surveillance MALE UAV with a 3-5 hour endurance (for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force) and the NRIST W-30/W-50 and PW-1/2, with a range of 100 km (60 miles). These entered People’s Liberation Army service in 2005.

Dozens of UAV designs are under development in China, from hand-launched to HALE. Some of the bigger aircraft include the China Aerospace Science and Technology (CASC) CH-3 with a 12 hour endurance and 180 km (110 mile) radius (it can apparently be fitted with FT-5 guided bombs or AR-1 missiles); armed CASC CH-4 (with a range of 3 500 km/2 200 miles) the Xian ASN Technology ASN-229A armed UAV with a 20 hour endurance and 2 000 km (1 200 mile) radius, and Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corporation Xianglong (Soar Dragon) long range (7 000 km/4 300 mile) UAV, which resembles the Global Hawk, except for its joined/box wing design. At the November 2012 Zuhai show, AVIC debuted to the public its Wing Loong 400 km (250 mile) range, 20 hour endurance UAV. This closely resembles the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator and can carry air-to-surface missiles. In addition, a large number of small rotary wing and hand-launched UAVs are under development or in production for the Chinese armed forces.

Japan

Japan has more than a dozen companies able to manufacture UAVs, but has not aggressively pushed UAV procurement. Nevertheless, a number of systems are in service with more in the pipeline due to regional instability. Small numbers of target drones (such as the Fuji Heavy Industries J/AQM-1 and BQM-34AJ are in service), alongside regular UAVs like the Fuji Forward Flying Observation System (FFOS, a rotary wing design equipping Army artillery units from 2004) and Yamaha R-MAX, which was deployed to Iraq in 2005. Japan has expressed interest in the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk. In July 2012 Insitu Pacific announced a contract with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to deliver two ScanEagle systems for operational evaluation by the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force.

North Korea

North Korea is rumoured to have acquired the Yakovlev Pchela in 1995 and indirectly sourced the Tupolev DR-3/M-141 jet-powered tactical reconnaissance UAV but this is difficult to confirm. South Korea, on the other hand, has several UAVs in service, including the Elbit Systems Skylark II (delivered from 2008), 100 Harpy radar attack UAVs (fielded from 1999) and the indigenous RQ-101 (Night Intruder 300) manufactured by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). Development of this system began in 1991, with delivery to the Army from 2001 (five systems, with six aircraft each, have been delivered). The Navy also operates the type, which has an endurance of six hours. The Korean Army deployed a small number of Searchers in the late 1990s in preparation for the RQ-101.

South Korea

South Korea’s robust aerospace industry has produced a number of local designs. KAI is developing the KUS-11 for delivery in 2015 and Night Intruder NI-11N, while Korean Air Lines Aerospace Division is developing the KUS-9 MALE UAV for the Korean Army, border patrol and wildfire monitoring. It previously developed the prototype KUS-7 reconnaissance/surveillance UAV, which flew in August 2007. Other notable companies are Microairrobot and Ucon Systems, which hav a number of micro UAVs in the works. One interesting project is the Smart UAV being developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). This tilt-rotor design was launched in 2005 and began flight testing in 2008. It is capable of speeds of 500 km/h (300 mph). Another noteworthy project is KAI’s Devil Killer long-range loitering munition, which has a maximum speed of 350+ km/h (220 mph). In 2011 Korea allocated some funding for four Global Hawks, but purchase plans were cancelled due to a doubling of the price between 2009 and 2011. Korea will open a new competition.

Taiwan

Taiwan has developed several of its own UAVs, notably the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) Chung Shyang I and II. 32 of the latter model aircraft (in eight systems) have been ordered for the army, with service entry in 2011. CSIST in 1994 began development of the Kestrel I UAV with a 20 kg (45 lb) payload, followed by the Kestrel II, with a 30 kg (65 lb) payload and eight hours endurance. The military has evaluated the CSIST Cardinal mini-UAV and Soaring Kite trainer UAV.

Several unmanned aircraft are under development, mostly for civil purposes, including numerous small and hand-launched designs by CSIST (under the Ministry of National Defence), Gang Yu Corp (whose AI Rider micro UAV has been used by the military) and National Cheng Kung University (Swan, Spoonbill, fuel cell powered-Grey-faced Buzzard and jet-powered Sky Fortress III UAVs). Aeroland, which produced target drones for the Taiwanese armed forces, has developed several UAVs, including the AL-20, AL-4 and 40 kg (90 lb) payload AL-150, while Uaver makes several small UAVs, such as the Avian, Swallow and Accipiter. The Republic of China Air Force seems to be interested in a HALE UAV, having stated it will pursue an indigenous aircraft rather than buy the Global Hawk.

Singapore

Singapore’s military is an enthusiastic user of UAVs, with half a dozen different models in service. The Republic of Singapore Air Force operates at least ten Searcher systems (which replaced the Scout from 1994) and deployed them to Afghanistan in 2010. A dozen Elbit Systems Hermes H-450s have been in service since 2007, while IAI in early 2012 delivered the Heron I system to replace the Searcher. From 2006 the Republic of Singapore Air Force received the Skylark UAV from Elbit. The Skylark and IAI Bird-Eye mini-UAVs were bought to develop tactics and procedures. Singapore’s Navy operates the ScanEagle, with its first systems being fielded in 2012 aboard the Navy’s Victory-class missile corvettes.

Singapore’s armed forces operate two different models of UAV from ST Aerospace, including the Skyblade I (from 2005), Skyblade II (from 2006), with a range of 8 km (5 miles), and the Skyblade III, which was fielded with the Army in 2011. ST Aerospace is developing a number of UAVs, including the Skyblade IV with a range of 100 km (62 miles), the FanTail 5000 VTOL micro UAV, MAV-1 (Miniature Air Vehicle-1) low observable jet powered tactical UAV and Skyblade 360 with a range of 15 km (9 miles) and endurance of six hours. It is believed that ST Aerospace has delivered its 150 lb (70 kg) Skyblade IV to Singapore’s armed forces. This UAV has a range of 100+ km (60+ miles) and an endurance of 6-12 hours.

Malaysia

Malaysia has a strong domestic UAV industry, with military use dominated by designs from Composite Technology Research Malaysia (CTRM). This company converted the Eagle Aircraft Eagle 150 light aircraft into a UAV, designated the Eagle ARV System, several of which were procured by the Malaysian government in 2001. CTRM subsequently began developing the EX-01/SR-01 and partnered with Ikramatic Systems and System Consultancy Services to form Unmanned Systems Technology (UST). This company developed the SR-01 and later SR-02 into the Aludra, which was deployed to monitor Malaysia’s borders. An improved version, the Aludra Mk II, has been used in East Malaysia (Borneo) since 2008. CTRM and UAE-based Adcom Systems have developed the 500 kg (11 00 lb) Yabhon Aludra MALE UAV, with an endurance of 30 hours and a range of 500 km (300 miles). Two of the latter will be leased for counter-terror duties. CTRM also offers a variety of micro UAVs, such as the Aludra SR-08 and rotary wing Intisar 100 and 300. In April 2012 Insitu Pacific announced a contract with UST for the lease of one ScanEagle system, which will be operated alongside the Aludra. A number of UAVs have been evaluated by the Malaysian military, such as the Sapura Cyber Eye and Cyber Shark.

Indonesia

Since March 2007 Indonesia’s BPPT (Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology) has developed five UAVs, including the Wulung (with an endurance of four hours), Pelatuk, Gagak, Sriti and Alap-Alap. Some of these (most likely the Alap-Alap and Sriti) will be manufactured by PT Dirgantara Indonesia (Indonesian Aerospace) for the Army, Navy and homeland security forces. Otherwise, Indonesia in 2012 began fielding the Searcher II (after long delays). It briefly used the CAC Systemes/EADS Fox AT1, which entered service since the early 2000s before being withdrawn in 2006 (the Indonesian Army’s BAIS Strategic Intelligence Agency acquired a single Fox ground station and four aircraft).

The Philippines

The Philippines has sought to operate UAVs and in 2001 obtained two EMIT Aviation Consultancy (now UVision) Blue Horizon lightweight UAVs for operational testing. Apparently the Philippines also acquired a small number of EMIT Sting I and II tactical UAVs to support anti-guerrilla operations. In the late 1990s Filipino company OB Mapua and Partners in conjunction with the Philippine Army began development of the Assunta tactical UAV (with an endurance of two hours), which flew in 2002 and was subsequently delivered to the Army to monitor rebel activity. The company is also believed to have developed the related Alessandra and Claudi small UAVs. US drones have struck targets in the Philippines, which needs to keep its insurgents and militants like the Abu Sayyaf under control. It is believed that there are several General Atomics Predator As and Northrop Grumman/IAI RQ-5 Hunters flying in the Philippines.

Sri Lanka has operated UAVs in operations against Tamil Tiger rebels, with IAI supplying Scout (or apparently Super Scout) and Searcher II UAVs. The locally developed Superstar UAV (apparently a derivative of the Hobbico RC aircraft) has allegedly been put into Air Force service.

Thailand

Thailand has long been a UAV user, acquiring six Developmental Sciences (now BAE Systems) R4E-30 SkyEyes for the Royal Thai Air Force in the 1980s. In 1992 four Searcher UAVs were ordered for the Royal Thai Army and used for border patrol (these were subsequently retired). In 2009 Thailand bought three Sapura Cyber Eye systems from Malaysia for the Royal Thai Air Force Academy; a single Aeronautics Defence Systems Aerostar in late 2010 and numerous AeroVironment Ravens since 2008. The Royal Thai Air Force uses the Silvertone Flamingo for training. In 2009 the RTAF called for three UAV systems (with 15, 30 and 100 km/10, 20 and 60 mile ranges) to equip a squadron and will most likely procure more UAVs in the future.
 

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