China may have just scored a success in its push towards eroding the US’s air superiority.
In late December, China’s Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) unveiled its latest iteration of the Tian Yi drone.
According to IHS Jane’s 360, the Tian Yi is a high-altitude long-endurance vehicle that could prove to have stealth capabilities.
CAC has released two prior models of the Tian Yi in 2006 and in 2008. Critically, the latest model has a number of redesigns over the 2008 model, including a wider air intake, a redesigned fuselage, and two turbofan engines.
The general purpose of this redesign, according to Jane’s, is likely to “suppress the UAV’s [unmanned aerial vehicle] infrared signature, which would stand out against in high cruise altitudes.”
This new drone development is part of China’s efforts to match the United States’ military capabilities. Chinese hackers had previously conducted a two-year campaign against at least 20 foreign defence contractors in a bid to steal technology underpinning the US’s drone program.
According to Foreign Policy, the Tian Yi could function as a smaller rival to the American Global Hawk, the US’s flagship surveillance drone.
Drones are not the only area in which China has tried to close the technology gap with the US. CAC iscurrently developingthe J-20, a fifth-generation fighter that could theoretically outperform the F-35 in certain areas. Of course, much of the development of the J-2o was made possible by Chinese hacking and other forms of espionage.
A Chinese entrepreneur was arrested in July after stealing gigabytes of data related to the F-35 and the F-22, along with other US military aviation projects. Previous extensive theft of F-35 data is believed to be the driver of a number of redesigns to the J-20 and the cause of the aircraft’s improvements within each prototype stage.
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