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Airshow China 2021: China highlights its confidence in homegrown military UAVs

Aerospace prime AVIC showcased its WZ-7 high-altitude long endurance UAV for the first time. Seen suspended from the rafters is a scale model of its supersonic WZ-8 UAV. (AVIC)

China touted its growing confidence in its indigenously developed military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology at the 13th edition of Airshow China being held from 28 September to 3 October in Zhuhai. The event was postponed from its original date in November 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with strict travel restrictions largely limiting attendance to domestic visitors.

While not all the military and dual-use UAVs being showcased at the event are new designs, key platforms in service with the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) – having been operated in tight secrecy previously – being shown to the public for the first time have attracted considerable attention from the international audience.

Among these is the WZ-7 Xianglong (Soaring Dragon), a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE)-class strategic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) UAV that is produced by Guizhou Aviation Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of state-owned commercial and defence aerospace prime Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). The company is displaying an example in its hangar, while the PLAAF is showcasing one of its assets at the outdoor static display.

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. Roughly analogous in terms of function but not performance – due to known deficiencies with indigenous turbine engine technology – with the US-made Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk HALE UAV, the WZ-7 is believed to be the PLAAF's primary high-altitude unmanned platform for terrestrial reconnaissance operations near strategically vital locations.

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