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Japanese fighter aircraft monitor WL-10 over East China Sea

A JASDF Boeing F-15 fighter aircraft monitored a Chinese Chengdu WL-10 HALE UAV in response to an airspace violation for the first time on 27 May 2024. (Japan Ministry of Defense)

Japanese fighter aircraft intercepted a Chengdu Wing Loong-10 (WL-10) high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) after the aircraft approached Japanese territory.

According to the Japan Ministry of Defense (MoD), Boeing (Mitsubishi) F-15 fighter aircraft scrambled from Naha Air Base on Okinawa on 27 May “due to the possibility of an airspace violation in the East China Sea”. Later, on the same day the MoD revealed that a WL-10 had been “observed flying over the East China Sea” in the morning.

“This is the first time that a WL-10 reconnaissance/attack UAV has been spotted in response to an airspace violation,” the MoD added.

In flightpath information for the WL-10 (as provided by the MoD), the UAV flew towards Okinawa Island and potentially approached within 100 km of Kume Island. The UAV then flew on a course parallel with the Okinawa Islands to a forward location, about 220 km west of Japan's Amami Islands. The UAV then retraced its original flightpath and was flown towards mainland China, according to the MoD data.

The WL-10 (also known as WZ-10) can undertake operations as both an armed reconnaissance aircraft and an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platform. China has also developed the WL-10A, which can conduct electronic warfare (EW) operations.

Janes has previously assessed that the specialist WL-10A has a single hardpoint on each wing. The UAV photographed by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) on 27 May appears to show the conventional variant of the WL-10. The WL-10 intercepted by JASDF aircraft is in “clean” configuration and lacks hardpoints, according to the MoD photograph.

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