China's intercontinental military drone Wing Loong-3 can fly 6,200 miles with air-to-air missiles
The Chinese military recently unveiled the Wing Loong-3, its intercontinental unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), at the 14th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition held in Guangdong province, South China Morning Post reported.
Developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, the Wing Loong drones resemble the Predator/ Reaper drones used by the U.S. military and are also used for medium altitude long endurance (MALE) operations by China. The drone first took flight in 2009 but has seen some rapid increments in its performance capabilities.
Wing Loong-3 drone
Like most other drones, the Wing Loong drones are intended for reconnaissance and surveillance missions and can be equipped with a variety of sensors. Additionally, the drone can be deployed for a combative role when fitted with air-to-surface missiles.
With the Wing Loong-3, China has taken combative drones to a different level altogether by increasing its range to 6,200 miles (10,000 km). To achieve this, China has increased the size of the drone considerably, with the length of Wing Loong-3 now at 40 feet (12.2 m), much longer than its predecessor's nearly 30 feet (9.05 m) body. The wingspan of Wing Loong-3 stands at 78.74 feet (24 m), much wider than the nearly 46 feet (14 m) of Wing Loon-1.
Another striking feature of the drone is its newly entrusted capability of carrying fourth-generation air-to-air missiles. As per SCMP's report, Wing Loong is equipped with PL-10E strike missiles that can take down helicopters and other UAVs, considerably increasing its survivability. Together with its long-range and striking capability, it makes the Wing Loong-3 a deadly drone capable of intercontinental strikes.
What it means for the U.S and its allies
The Chinese Aviation Industry Corporation of China (Avic) plans to mass produce the Wing Loong-3 and has already initiated work on establishing this capacity. China already exports Wing Loong drones, which are currently in service in African and Middle Eastern nations.
These drones are considered at par with Turkish Bayraktar UAVs, and with the recent upgrades, China has demonstrated the ability to innovate and deliver. Intriguingly, China is also offering the technology to countries that sign up for its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which a Forbes report dubbed Drone Diplomacy.
Currently, the Wing Loong drones might only be in demand in Libya or in Pakistan but with increased range and better strike capabilities mean that they could soon be attractive to other countries as well.
As we saw during the conflict in Ukraine, major defense manufacturers like Russia turned to Iran for its Shahed drones to target strategic locations in large numbers. It would not be a surprise if other U.S. adversaries also took to these drones to target U.S. bases far from the mainland U.S.
What would be an even worse scenario is the sale of Wing Loong-3 drones to potential terrorists who could use them to target sites inside the U.S. without even getting close to borders. Given its size, Wing Loong-3 travel rather slowly than most missiles and weapons. However, experts told Forbes that combined with a low-altitude flight, it could be used to evade air defense systems and carry out attacks from thousands of miles away.
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