China developing new supersonic drone to target Taiwan, Japan, US

China may deploy the new WZ-8 supersonic drones to attack military assets belonging to target Taiwan, Japan and the United States (US) in the Pacific region Image Courtesy AFP

Washington: The launch of China’s latest supersonic surveillance drone could signal impending pre-emptive attacks on the US, Japan, and Taiwan.

This information has been revealed in a leaked US intelligence report which goes on to state that the Chinese drone might test how countries in the Indo-Pacific region responds to and defend themselves against airspace incursions by China.

According to a report by ‘The Washington Post’, leaked documents of the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency claim that China may deploy the new WZ-8 supersonic drones to attack military assets belonging to target Taiwan, Japan and the United States (US) in the Pacific region.

Two WZ-8 rocket-powered supersonic drones were spotted at Liuan Airfield, 560 kilometres inland from Shanghai, according to papers from the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency that were leaked in August.

According to the report, the drones are an advanced reconnaissance system that might collect real-time mapping data to guide strategy or choose missile attack targets in a future fight.

The predicted flight routes for WZ-8 reconnaissance flights are shown in the secret documents that The Washington Post has seen. Additionally, while in Taiwanese and South Korean airspace, its electro-optical cameras and other sensors could acquire intelligence.

The WZ-8 is now unarmed, but the Post claims that given how hard it is to identify and intercept, it may eventually be adapted for strikes. The WZ-8, which could fly inside South Korean and Taiwanese airspace at an altitude of 30,000 metres and a speed of three times the speed of sound, is said to be launched from China’s east coast by a H6-M bomber.

In celebration of the People’s Republic of China’s 70th anniversary of founding, China unveiled the WZ-8 drone in 2019. Even still, very few analysts believed the drones were in use at the time.

The WZ-8 might offer the features that are lacking in current strategic reconnaissance drones. For instance, advancements in anti-satellite weapons and air defences have brought to light the necessity for a supersonic, high-speed platform for intelligence collection to enter and leave strongly guarded territory, which can be dangerous even for the most covert of drones.

In April of last year, Asia Times listed US and partner counter-space capabilities that might endanger China’s spy and target satellites, including ground-based mobile lasers, radiofrequency jammers, microwave weapons, and hunter-killer satellites.

The US Long-Range Discrimination Radar, which would be able to distinguish between China’s military and commercial satellites, was also covered by Asia Times in an August article.

Regarding the use of drones for reconnaissance, China has a thorough doctrine. Deep reconnaissance entails looking at places outside of a specific unit’s organic weapons systems, as stated in the December 2021 issue of Red Diamond, a publication from the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

It also mentions that a combination of long-range, high-endurance drones, including the WZ-8 and other variants, are used in China’s deep reconnaissance operations.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has reportedly adopted drones to detect long-range artillery and use them for fire direction, targeting, and forward observation. Drones represent a sizable portion of the PLA-GF’s expenditure.

It also points out that, given its strong emphasis on battlefield monitoring and targeting capabilities, China’s integration of sensors and shooters is quick, redundant, and dependable.

While the DF-17 was prominently among the missiles fired by China in its show of force against Taiwan last August, demonstrating its capability to box Taiwan in with long-range precision fire, the YJ-21 relies on satellite guidance provided by the PLA Strategic Support Force (PLA-SSF) to hit US aircraft carriers.

Should China’s satellites be disabled by US and ally counter-space weapons, drones like the WZ-8 can offer a backup targeting capability.

China’s developing reconnaissance-strike complex may depend on the WZ-8 supersonic drone and its developing hypersonic weapons triad.

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