China’s supersonic spy drone was unveiled for the first time during a weekend rehearsal for the National Day military parade on October 1, according to photographs circulating on social media.
The photos, which have prompted discussion among military enthusiasts, show at least two types of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – identified as the DR-8 or Wuzhen 8, and the Sharp Sword stealth attack drone.
The DR-8 would be expected to play a key role should there be a conflict with US aircraft carrier strike groups in the South China Sea or Western Pacific.
The reconnaissance drone’s appearance at the rehearsal drew attention partly because it loosely resembles a supersonic UAV that was retired by the US more than four decades ago – the D-21.
The US used the drone for spying missions in China and a number of them crashed during operations, leaving their remnants scattered in various locations across the country. One of the crashed D-21s was put on display at Beijing’s Military Museum a few years ago.
The DR-8 reconnaissance drone has a role in assessing the strike impact of China’s “aircraft carrier killer”, the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, and the DF-26 ballistic missile.
According to Zhou Chenming, a Beijing-based military commentator, the DR-8 could travel faster than the D-21 – whose maximum speed is Mach 3.3 – letting it penetrate the enemy’s air defences and return intact with intelligence.
The PLA had been using the drone – which can reach strategic locations as far away as the Western Pacific, including Guam – for some time, according to Shanghai-based military commentator Shi Lao.
“In fact, this UAV [the DR-8] entered into service a while ago,” Shi said.
The other drone to watch at the parade, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, is the Sharp Sword – an attack drone that can carry several missiles or laser-guided bombs.
Also spotted in the rehearsal photos was China’s hypersonic DF-17 missile, which can deliver a manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle capable of shifting targets in flight.
The DF-41 will also be part of the huge military parade – a solid-fuel, road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads and hit targets on the US mainland.
The PLA Air Force also rolled out a new strategic bomber, the H-6N, during the rehearsal on Sunday. Observers said that the bomber’s most notable feature was an aerial refuelling receptacle.
That will enable the aircraft, which was modelled on the Soviet Tu-16 jet bomber, to carry out in-flight refuelling – significantly boosting its operating range compared to its predecessor, the H-6K.
A previously undisclosed lightweight battle tank, the Type 15, was also seen during the parade rehearsals.
“There will be some exciting new weaponry on show at the parade this year,” Zhou said.