China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Central Theatre Command has released images of an in-service BZK-005 medium-altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that has been specifically configured for wide-area intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, offering what appears to be the first glimpse of this specific variant to the international public.
The Central Theatre Command announced on 23 March that a BZK-005 UAV, operated by an undisclosed PLA Air Force (PLAAF) reconnaissance UAV battalion, was dispatched at 1000 h local time to provide airborne real-time intelligence to support joint civil-military firefighting operations - led by the command's 83rd Army Group - in the landlocked northwestern province of Shaanxi on 18 March.
It added that imagery and data captured by the air vehicle's ISR payloads, comprising a ventral electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret and an undernose synthetic aperture radar (SAR) pod, enabled army planners to pinpoint hotspots obscured by the blanket of thick smoke in the afflicted area and direct troops to construct a 4 km long, 50 m wide firebreak to contain the blaze.
An image of the PLAAF BZK-005 clearly showed the air vehicle in its wide-area ISR configuration - a marked departure from past imagery that only showed the type equipped with only an undernose EO/IR turret - which houses an indigenous SAR system believed to be developed by the Institute of Electronics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IECAS).
Industry sources told Jane's that IECAS has been engaged in domestic SAR technology research and development (R&D) since the early 2000s and has successfully commercialised the D3000 family of multifunction UAV SAR payloads.
According to the institute, D3000-series payloads have volumetric weights of between 5-100 kg and are designed to cover the Ka-, Ku-, X-, C-, and L-bands, enabling fixed-wing or rotary UAVs to perform a broad range of air-to-surface search and detect tasks including inverse SAR (InSAR) imaging, ground moving target indication (GMTI), spotlight-mode radar imaging, strip-mapping, as well as wide area search.
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