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China flexes muscles as Beijing unveils new stealth drones ‘What could go wrong?’

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China's advanced stealth drones discussed by Hildebrand

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The long-range FH-97 drone concept unveiled on Wednesday can carry different types of weapons. Wu Wei, a representative of China Aerospace Science Technology Corp’s, said the weapons have electronic warfare capabilities. Journalist Joe Hildebrand has sarcastically questioned what could “possibly go wrong” with the weapon.

Speaking to Sky News Australia, Mr Hildebrand said: “I think the obvious response is ‘what could possibly go wrong?’

“China’s got planes that can go and shoot people with a range of 24 hours and 400mph.

“That’s great, that’s terrific.

“I think it’s going to a be real black mark on the government signing up to a nuclear submarine programme.”

China put on an extravagant display of once-secret high-end military technology at its largest air show this week while broadcasting its growing ambitions in space exploration and for self-sufficiency in commercial aircraft.

Pandemic-related travel restrictions meant Airshow China in the southern city of Zhuhai was a largely domestic affair, but foreign observers kept a close eye on developments from afar as China builds its military strength.

“Key platforms in service with the 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,” said Kelvin Wong, a Singapore-based defence editor at Janes.

He pointed to WZ-7 Xianglong, a high-altitude long-endurance reconnaissance drone roughly analogous to the US-made Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk but with inferior engines.

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The WZ-7 has been sighted operating out of airbases close to the Sino-Indian border, the North Korean border, and the South China Sea, Wong said.

China has been working hard to improve the performance of its homegrown engines, which have lagged Western technology. At the show, it flew its J-20 fighter jets with Chinese engines rather than Russian ones for the first time.

Testing is also underway for two types of domestic engines for its Y-20 transport plane, the plane’s chief designer told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The J-16D electronic warfare fighter, its closest equivalent to the U.S.-made EA-18G Growler, was on ground display, showcasing a capability that experts say could help it erode Taiwan’s anti-aircraft defences in the event of a conflict.


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Wong said at least three types of jamming pods were hung on the plane, suggesting that each was designed to disrupt different parts of the electronic spectrum.

China also revealed it is pursuing a “loyal wingman” drone to help protect pricier crewed fighter jets, in line with rival projects in the United States, Britain, Australia, India, and Russia.

The developer did not say whether that drone, the Feihong FH-97 concept, would be exported, but the presentation was attended by many foreign observers.

China also revealed it expected to launch its next generation of heavy-duty rockets, powerful enough to send a crewed spacecraft to the moon, in 2028 – two years earlier than previously expected.

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