China’s new supersonic surveillance drone may be a precursor to strikes against the United States, Japan, and Taiwan. It can also be used to evaluate how prepared regional states are to deal with unauthorized aircraft flights.
The Washington Post speculated this month that China would use a brand new type in an attack on Taiwan and American Pacific bases.
Two WZ-8 rocket-powered supersonic drones were spotted by satellite at Liuan airfield, 560 kilometers inland from Shanghai, according to papers stolen from the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in August.
The report states that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a state-of-the-art recognition system with the potential to acquire vital mapping data in real time, which might be used to shape future military strategy or pinpoint potential missile attacks locations.
The Washington Post has received confidential documents showing the intended routes of the WZ-8’s reconnaissance flights. Its sensors, including electro-optical cameras, could gather intelligence data while above Taiwan and South Korea.
The Post believes that the WZ-8’s invulnerability to detection and interception makes it a prime candidate for future strikes, despite it now carrying no weapons.
According to the report, the WZ-8 is launched by a Chinese H6-M bomber from the east coast, where it has the potential to reach a height of 30,000 meters while traveling at three times the speed of sound over the airspace of South Korea and Taiwan.
The Post claims that China introduced the WZ-8 drone in 2019 during the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. However, only a few analysts thought the drones were operational then.
The WZ-8 can provide capabilities that existing strategic reconnaissance drones need to improve. For example, improvements in anti-satellite capabilities and air defenses have highlighted the need for a high-speed supersonic intelligence-gathering platform that can move in and out of heavily defended airspace, which can be dangerous even for stealthier drones.
Last April, the Asia Times noted the counter space capabilities of the United States and its allies, such as ground-mobile lasers, radio frequency jammers, microwave weapons, and hunter-killer satellites, which can threaten surveillance satellites and Chinese aim.
In addition, Asia Times reported last August on the US long-range discrimination radar, which can discriminate between China’s military and commercial satellites.
China has a detailed policy regarding the use of drones for surveillance. To conduct deep reconnaissance, a unit must go beyond the capabilities of its own organic weapons systems, as explained in the December 2021 issue of Red Diamond, a journal of the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).
He also notes that the WZ-8 and other long-range, heavy-duty drones are used in China’s deep reconnaissance activities.
According to the source, the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLA-GF) has heavily invested in drone technology for use in long-range artillery detection, fire direction, aiming, and forward observation.
It also highlights China’s concentration on battlefield surveillance and marksmanship and how their integration of sensors and shooters is quick, redundant, and dependable.
According to a report by Kartik Bommakanti for the Observer Research Foundation published this month, the PLA Air Force (PLA-AF) and the PLA Rocket Force (PLA-RF) have been modernized thanks to the introduction of drones and artificial intelligence (AI) significantly, demonstrating a focus on the quality of warhead delivery rather than the warheads themselves.
Asia Times reported in February on China’s fledgling hypersonic weapons triad, in which ship- and aircraft-launched YJ-21 “carrier-killer” missiles, along with its DF-17 mobile hypersonic missile, have become formidable assets. For conventional deterrence.
The YJ-21 relies on satellite guidance provided by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLA-SSF) to target US aircraft carriers, making it a strategic weapon, while the DF-17 was one of the missiles China fired in its show of force against Taiwan last August, demonstrating its ability to box Taiwan with long-range precision fire.
Drones like the WZ-8 can provide a backup targeting capability should Chinese satellites be knocked out by US and allied counter-space capabilities.
China’s WZ-8 supersonic drone and the fledgling triad of hypersonic weapons may be critical elements of its emerging reconnaissance-strike complex.
In a 2014 report for the Project 2049 Institute, Ian Easton notes that the capabilities of China’s reconnaissance-strike complex are intended to undermine the United States’ abilities to project power in the Pacific during crises or conflicts or to meet its security commitments to allies and coalition partners.
Easton asserts that China’s conventional power, such as hypersonic missiles and guided artillery, endangers strategic assets such as US aircraft carriers, enables precision strikes against critical targets while minimizing collateral damage and ammunition waste, and threatens its neighbors to a much greater degree than traditional platforms such as warships or fighter jets.
In addition, drone reconnaissance missions over territorial waters suggest that China intentionally increases the possibility of unforeseen incidents to extract concessions, as Easton claims.
It also says that the PLA’s reconnaissance capabilities enable intelligence-gathering operations to “prepare the battlefield.” Instead, its strike capabilities focus on offensive missile systems optimized for large preemptive strikes.