INDO PACIFIC UAV DIRECTORY 2021
Asian Military Review|June/July 2021
The development of unmanned aerial vehicles is growing apace, especially in China. New longer range ISR platforms are also on the procurement list of several nations.
JR NG

Regional military forces continue to develop and field unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as part of ongoing modernization efforts, with an eye on applications – such as border/maritime patrol and surveillance – where extended range and loiter performance is desired.

While contemporary tactical and medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE)-class UAVs have traditionally served in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, there is an emerging interest in developing more capable systems that can undertake higher-end missions such as air-to-air combat, electronic warfare, and long-range strike.

Indeed, market forecaster Teal Group estimates in its 2020/2021 study that global military UAV research spending could be worth up to $64.5 billion over the decade on the back of new technologies. In addition, the company noted that the next generation of systems is being developed at a time when the UAV market is expanding rapidly due to liberalised US export regulations, affordable and accessible Chinese exports and a growing demand for armed UAVs.

AUSTRALIA

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is aggressively pursuing unmanned and autonomous aircraft development, with its three services simultaneously managing broad range of development and acquisition programmes from pocket-sized ‘nanocopters’ to high-end medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) and high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) platforms, and even ‘loyal wingman’ combat systems.

Unmanned systems will also be a core element of the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) Plan Jericho, an ambitious project which seeks to transform the service using future high technology systems.

Fielded Capabilities

Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle: In operational use aboard the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN’s) Adelaide-class frigates and equipped with Sentient Vision Systems’ visual detection and ranging (Vidar) equipment for on-demand maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). Also known to have been integrated aboard the lead Leeuwin-class hydrographic survey ship HMAS Leeuwin.

Schiebel Camcopter S-100: Used by the RAN for operational training and development ahead of a future phase of Joint Project 129 that aims to inform the selection of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV platform for its future Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and Hunter-class frigates.

AeroVironment RQ-12 Wasp AE: Acquired for the Australian Army’s Project Land 129 Phase 4 small UAV requirement. Australia announced a contract for an unspecified number of Wasp AE mini-UAVs, which can operate for up to 50 minutes out to a range of five kilometers (three miles), with the aim of equipping every combat team.

FLIR Systems PD-100 Black Hornet II: In service with the Australian Army. The palm-sized Black Hornet systems are being used as platoon-level reconnaissance assets.

Under Development/Consideration/ Trials

Boeing Airpower Teaming System (BATS): The 38 feet (11.7 metres) long BATS features a design range of around 3,700km (2,300 miles). Australia is investing $22 million (A$28 million) in the development programme with Boeing building three prototypes in Australia. The company announced in late February that first prototype had performed its maiden flight in Woomera.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B SkyGuardian: The DoD downselected the MQ-9B SkyGuardian for its AIR 7003 requirement for an armed UAV capability. In April 2021, the US State Department approved a potential $1.65 billion Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of up to 12 weapons-ready MQ-9B systems, along with a sensors and weapons package and related equipment and services.

Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton: Six Tritons UAVs were acquired in separate deals between 2018 and 2019. These are expected to enter service in mid-2023 and fully operationalized by 2025 and will support the RAAF’s Boeing P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft in long-range maritime surveillance.

DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA (DPRK)

North Korea earlier acquired several types of Chinese and Russian-made UAVs, but has since started local manufacture of the Chinese ASN-104 design, known locally as the Panghyon I, as well as the improved Panghyon II based on the ASN-105. Reports also indicate that the DPRK is developing a long-endurance UAV, with South Korean officials claiming that “numerous test flights” by such prototypes have been detected since early 2016.

Fielded Capabilities

Xi'an ASN Technical Group ASN104/D-4: In service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and DPRK army for tactical missions such as front-line reconnaissance and electronic jamming.

Panghyon I and II: Domestically manufactured versions of the X’ian ASN-104 (described above) and ASN105 UAVs. The Panghyon II is essentially the same airframe but incorporates an extended range control system.

Yakovlev OKB Pchela-1T: Developed in the early 1990s to meet a tactical surveillance and electronic countermeasures requirement, the Pchela-1T adopts a pusher-propeller propulsion arrangement and carries a TV camera with a zoom lens. It is believed that the DPRK acquired up to 10 of these UAVs.

Taiyuan Navigation Technologies Sky-09P: The Sky-09P is powered by a two-blade propeller driven by a tractor engine mounted in the nose. It is now likely that the DPRK is locally manufacturing the type, following the acquisition of several of these UAVs in the 1990s.

MALAYSIA

The Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) presently operates leased UAVs – the Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle and the indigenously developed Alliance Unmanned Developmental Research Aircraft (ALUDRA) Mk1 tactical UAV. The country is looking to expand its use of UAVs – particularly by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) as it seeks cost-effective measures to monitor developments in the South China Sea, Straits of Malacca, and the Sulu Sea near Sabah.

Fielded Capabilities

Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle: The RMN will eventually operate 12 ScanEagle UAVs transferred under the US Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) programme. In April 2021, it stood up a new unit, Squadron 601, to operate the new systems. Six air vehicles have already been delivered, with the remaining systems expected by the end of 2021.

Unmanned Systems Technology (UST) ALUDRA Mk1: The ALUDRA Mk1 leverages on earlier development on the SR-1 and SR-2 UAVs from the early 2000s. At least 15 systems are believed to be operated under lease since 2006, with UST as the main contractor.

Thales España Fulmar: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) acquired six Fulmar UAVs for its latest New Generation Patrol Craft (NGPC) in 2016. The MMEA-specific model will carry a high-resolution video camera with automatic target tracking capabilities.

Under Development/Consideration/ Trials

Unmanned Systems Technology (UST) ALUDRA Mk2: The ALUDRA Mk2 is intended to be acquired by the MAF, although this requirement appears to have lapsed with the armed forces still operating the Mk1.

MYANMAR

The Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw) is believed to be operating a range of Chinese, Israeli, and Russian-made UAVs, with several examples being highlighted in the coup that it launched against the civilian government in February 2021 as well as ongoing military action against rebel groups along its borders.

Fielded Capabilities

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) Cai Hong/Rainbow (CH)-3: CASC’s CH-3 UAV, developed by its China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) subsidiary. Between 10-12 CH-3 UAVs are believed to have been acquired by Myanmar. An example was seen overflying Mandalay city to monitor protest activity in late March.

Elbit Sytems Skylark I-LEX: It is believed that Israel supplied a number of hand-launched I-LEX UAVs to Myanmar following an official visit to Israel around 2015. However, Israel has reportedly ceased to provide further UAVs and associated support over human rights concerns since 2018.

Spetsialny Tekhnologicheski Tsentr (STT) Orlan-10: Russia will reportedly supply an unspecified number of Orlan10E reconnaissance UAVs to Myanmar as part of a broader deal that also includes Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and radar systems. An identified UAV with a comparable profile was also seen being used to monitor civilians in March.

NEW ZEALAND

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has expressed its desire for aerial ISR UAVs in its Future Land Operating Concept 2035 paper, which outlines potential challenges for its armed forces in the next decade and beyond.

A similar desire had also been highlighted by the NZDF in its latest 2016 Defence White Paper, which has proposed $14 billion (NZ$20 billion) out to around 2030 to enhance the capabilities of its various services, although both documents do not offer any specific timelines or preferred systems.

The Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) has also indicated an interest to field a maritime UAV aboard its Otagoclass OPVs, which would greatly benefit from an organic high-speed surveillance capability for their extended maritime and economic exclusive zone (EEZ) patrols. However, no formal requirement has been raised to date.

In November 2018, NZDF chief Air Marshal Kevin Short noted in a televised interview that the service is seeking a new UAV capability by the mid-2020s.

Fielded Capabilities

Skycam UAV Kahu: The Kahu has been designed as a high-performance, aerodynamically efficient mini-UAV that is equipped with an autopilot system designed by the New Zealand Defence Technology Agency. It is presently operated by the New Zealand Army and can carry a range of high performance still, motion video, and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, with a flight endurance of two hours and a range of 25km (15 miles).

INDIA

India has been involved in UAV development for over two decades, with research and development (R&D) organizations and defence companies such as Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), developing UAVs with ISR, targeting, and weapon guidance capabilities for decades.

Fielded Capabilities

IAI Heron: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is known to operate at least 20 Heron MALE UAVs for long-endurance ISR missions, with the first examples delivered in 2001 and additional aircraft acquired since to equip army regiments situated along the disputed Sino-Indian border. The Indian Navy (IN) is believed to operate at least 12 Heron UAVs, with a number of these located at its Porbandar facility on the west coast to monitor the waters off Karachi. Taken together, the total number of Mk I and Mk II Herons in Indian military service likely exceeds 50 units.

IAI Searcher Mk II: All three services of the Indian armed forces have also been operators of the tactical-class Searcher Mk II UAV since 2001. The MkII variant features extended-span wings and a AR 682 rotary engine that provide improved flight endurance over the earlier model.

Under Consideration/Development/ Trials

DRDO Rustom I/II: The DRDO’s Rustom programme aims to produce an indigenously developed multirole MALE UAV to equip all three Indian military services. The platform is expected to undertake long-endurance missions, including communications relay, ISR, maritime patrol, as well as artillery fire direction and battle damage assessment (BDA).

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Predator B Guardian: Up to 22 units of the Guardian, an unarmed maritime variant of the MQ-9 Reaper MALE UAV system, worth $3 billion could be acquired for the Indian Navy under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

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