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Thread: #China's High-Speed WZ-8 Drone Is Rocket Powered & All About Doing What Satellites Can't Do - The aircraft is designed to rapidly gather intel in contested areas by surprise & especially when key satellites are no longer operational 👍Excellent👍thedrive.com/the-war-zone/3…
The WZ-8 is an air-launched, high-speed, high-altitude, unmanned reconnaissance aircraft that is recoverable via a runway. It also looks a lot like some of the high-speed shapes China had been testing via high-altitude balloon drops in recent years.
What's new is that we now know its propulsion method—rocket engines. In other words, it isn't an air breather. This isn't surprising considering China's struggles with advanced jet engine propulsion technology or how they would employ this aircraft operationally.
Developing an engine that can operate at high supersonic speeds is a big technological task. Using rockets allows for a far more straightforward & available powerplant solution—one that can push the WZ-8 to extreme speeds, but also one that could limit its flexibility and range.
2 small open-cycle, liquid-fueled, rocket engines are seen side-by-side on the aircraft. It's unclear if the engines are reusable or are single-use. Being rocket-powered, this craft could have the potential to climb to extreme altitudes, potentially nearing the edge of space.
It could then use the speed and altitude it has acquired to continue on a quasi-ballistic trajectory before turning toward its recovery location once in thicker air and eventually gliding in for a landing.
A big question is how could it control itself above altitudes where traditional flight control surfaces are no longer useful? Without a reaction control system of thrusters, which it does not have, it would probably be limited to flight below roughly 140,000 feet.
With thrust vectoring, this may be able to be increased for a short period of time, but based on what I can see in the images, its engines do not appear to have such a capability.
I believe this aircraft was built to fly primarily at the very upper reaches of where traditional control surfaces are effective, and maybe slightly beyond on a ballistic arch, for a brief period of time. This is still quite high— even at 135,000 feet, Mach 3.42 is 2,500 mph.
When it comes to how fast this craft can go, it remains unclear. But high supersonic range would be my guess—somewhere between Mach 3.5 and Mach 4.5. Mach 4.5 at 135,000 feet is 3,285 mph. That isn't quite hypersonic, but it is amazingly fast.
Even a 20-minute cruise at those speeds would allow it to cover 1,100 miles. It's very likely air-launched from a specially outfitted H-6N bomber, so this wouldn't include transit time to the launch area or its flight home, which would be a gliding descent to landing.
I think it's safe to say that this craft could have a range up to 1,500 miles. That range & altitude would allow it to cover much of the South China Sea. It could launch from Hainan Island & recover at one of China's South China Sea island outposts and return on another mission.
Its H-6 carriers can also range far out to sea, launching the drone in a very remote location and allowing it sweep massive areas of the Pacific for American carrier strike groups or make high-speed runs over the territory of potential foes.
Swatting down a small target arriving unannounced at Mach 4.5 & 135,000 feet is no easy task, to say the least. If this craft can function well above the height at which standard control surfaces become ineffective, up to the edge of space, then it's likely hypersonic in nature.
But at this time, we have no clear evidence that supports this possibility, although it is worth keeping it in mind as we learn more about this system in the coming years.
It isn't clear what the aperture atop the nose is for.
It could be for satellite communications for semi-autonomous control or periodic updates, but it could also be a celestial navigation system that would come handy considering its flight profile & especially to operate in combat environments where satellite support is unassured.
So, what we are really talking about here is an asset that can be put into action with little notice and provide very prompt intelligence over critical areas, including those that are located substantial distances from the Chinese mainland.
Above all else, it is just about as close to a perfect application as China is going to get for prosecuting a war in which its intelligence satellites may be blinded, jammed, disabled, or destroyed—an all too possible reality.
It also gives the PLA the ability to gather intelligence in a survivable and rapid manner without the enemy knowing eyes are going to be overhead—a major limitation of traditional spy satellites.
Such an intelligence-gathering capability has many applications, not just locating carrier strike groups. Can providing damage assessments after ballistic and cruise missile strikes on strategic locations.
Still, many other questions remain, how is skin-friction heat attenuated & what sensor packages is integrated into its arrowhead-like design. The aircraft fits well with China's overall regional objectives, military strategy & makes you wonder what else they have up their sleeve.
With thrust vectoring, this may be able to be increased for a short period of time, but based on what I can see in the images, its engines do not appear to have such a capability.
I believe this aircraft was built to fly primarily at the very upper reaches of where traditional control surfaces are effective, and maybe slightly beyond on a ballistic arch, for a brief period of time. This is still quite high— even at 135,000 feet, Mach 3.42 is 2,500 mph.
When it comes to how fast this craft can go, it remains unclear. But high supersonic range would be my guess—somewhere between Mach 3.5 and Mach 4.5. Mach 4.5 at 135,000 feet is 3,285 mph. That isn't quite hypersonic, but it is amazingly fast.
Even a 20-minute cruise at those speeds would allow it to cover 1,100 miles. It's very likely air-launched from a specially outfitted H-6N bomber, so this wouldn't include transit time to the launch area or its flight home, which would be a gliding descent to landing.
Its H-6 carriers can also range far out to sea, launching the drone in a very remote location & allowing it sweep massive areas of the Pacific for American carrier strike groups or make high-speed runs over the territory of potential foes.
I think it's safe to say that this craft could have a range up to 1,500 miles. That range & altitude would allow it to cover much of the South China Sea. It could launch from Hainan Island & recover at one of China's South China Sea island outposts and return on another mission.
Its H-6 carriers can also range far out to sea, launching the drone in a very remote location & allowing it sweep massive areas of the Pacific for American carrier strike groups or make high-speed runs over the territory of potential foes.
Swatting down a small target arriving unannounced at Mach 4.5 at 135,000 feet is no easy task to say the least. If this craft can function well above the height at which standard control surfaces become ineffective, up to the edge of space, then it's likely hypersonic in nature.
But at this time, we have no clear evidence that supports this possibility, although it is worth keeping it in mind as we learn more about this system in the coming years.
It isn't clear what the aperture atop the nose is for.
It could be for satellite communications for semi-autonomous control or periodic updates, but it could also be a celestial navigation system that would come handy considering its flight profile & especially to operate in combat environments where satellite support is unassured.
So, what we are really talking about here is an asset that can be put into action with little notice and provide very prompt intelligence over critical areas, including those that are located substantial distances from the Chinese mainland.
Above all else, it is just about as close to a perfect application as China is going to get for prosecuting a war in which its intelligence satellites may be blinded, jammed, disabled, or destroyed—an all too possible reality.
It also gives the PLA the ability to gather intelligence in a survivable and rapid manner without the enemy knowing eyes are going to be overhead—a major limitation of traditional spy satellites.
Such an intelligence-gathering capability has many applications, not just locating carrier strike groups. Can providing damage assessments after ballistic and cruise missile strikes on strategic locations.
Still, many other questions remain, how is skin-friction heat attenuated & what sensor packages is integrated into its arrowhead-like design. The aircraft fits well with China's overall regional objectives, military strategy & makes you wonder what else they have up their sleeve.
Sources say that the WZ-8 drone has been in service since June 2018. The serial number '21311' confirms the WZ-8 is operational with the 10th Bomber Division, a H-6M bomber unit in eastern China facing Taiwan and Japan.
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