TAIPEI - China has developed a UAV for use by the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) for communications relay missions aboard Navy vessels at sea. The Silver Hawk made its first test flight on June 1 in the Binhai area in northeastern China.
According to an unconfirmed Chinese-language report, during a 3.5 hour flight test the Silver Hawk carried out a series of communications relay tests.
"This new communications relay UAV is consistent with the PLA's overarching doctrine of informatization and its ambition to make increasing use of unmanned systems," said Richard Fisher, senior fellow, International Assessment and Strategy Center. While its capabilities are not fully known, the UAV will likely allow division or brigade commands to better ensure integrity of communications.
"This version has not been previously disclosed and has likely been developed to include more versions, such as electronics warfare and electronics intelligence," he said.
A photograph appearing on a Chinese nongovernmental website, chinamil.com, shows what appears to be a modified ASN-209 outfitted with four upright vertical antennas on the body and the wings. The ASN-209 has direct line-of-sight (LOS) data link as well as ground-based and airborne data relay for beyond LOS missions. Produced by the ASN Technology Group in Xi'an, Shaanxi, China, the ASN-209 is a popular configuration used by other Chinese UAV programs.
"The PLA has been experimenting with a whole family of UAVs in recent years, but the ASN-209 has been the most popular one so far for tactical deployments," said Gary Li, intelligence analyst, UK-based Exclusive Analysis. Li has seen them used by reconnaissance battalions, artillery units and other ground-based units. These are company/battalion assets, as opposed to the medium-altitude long-endurance UAVs, which are considered strategic UAVs controlled directly by the PLA's General Staff Department, he said.
There are suspicions that PLAN destroyers used the same type of UAV during a naval foray through the Okinawa Strait last month, Li said.
"I can imagine the PLAN using them to buzz Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels in the future, which would send the message across without provoking a major incident," as in the case when a Chinese Ka-28 anti-submarine warfare helicopter came within 100 meters of the Japanese destroyer Suzunami in April. Deploying them from PLAN vessels is the next logical step although the range of the ASN-209 is limited, he said. The ASN-209 has a maximum LOS of 200 kilometers and an endurance of 10 hours.
The ASN-209 configuration utilizes a twin-boom pusher layout with high-set wings and a stabilizer linking the twin fins. It uses the catapult rocket launch and parachute recovery system. The same configuration is used on other Chinese UAVs, including the SL-200 system built by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. and the W-50 and PW-1/2 built by Nanjing Research Institute for Simulation Techniques.
The Silver Hawk is most likely powered by the same ASN-built 22-kilogram HS-700 engine that drives the ASN-206, 207 and 208 UAVs. According to a brochure acquired at the 2010 Zhuhai Airshow, the HS-700 has a high power-to-weight ratio and is suitable for either tractor or pusher installation.
"The HS-700 is a 51 horsepower air-cooled two-stroke flat-four piston engine driving a two-blade propeller," the brochure said.