China Blooms in Mideast Desert

China’s AVIC displayed a wide range of UAS platforms at Dubai Airshow 2017

Prasun K. Sengupta

This year’s Dubai Airshow 2017, expectedly, proved to be its biggest edition yet when it opened its doors at the purpose-built Dubai World Central (DWC) expo site on November 12, with an estimated 72,500 trade visitors thronging the expo venue across its five-day run, and more than 1,200 exhibitors (10 per cent from North America, 30 per cent from Europe and 40 per cent from the Middle East) representing the entire spectrum of the aerospace industry taking part.

Cloud Shadow MALE-UCAV

Of particular attraction this year were the new feature pavilions and conferences: the Space Conference and Pavilion, with speakers including Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot USAF Col Al Worden (retd); the all-new Cargo Zone expo venue, the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) summit; and the Airport Solutions summit, which was re-launched by expo organiser Tarsus F & E LLC Middle East as part of the Airport Solutions Global Series.

Other popular features returned this year as well, including the Gulf Aviation Training Event (GATE), now in its fourth edition, having expanded this time to include panel discussions on maintenance and inflight crew training, in addition to pilot training. Futures Day, aimed at inspiring the next generation of aerospace professionals, also returned on day five of the expo in conjunction with leading universities based throughout the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The flying display schedule this time included the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s August 1st Air Demonstration Team from China, the Russian Knights, and the UAE’s Al Fursan. The purpose-built static park featured more than 160 aircraft on display, including airliners of various types, helicopters, business jets and UAS platforms.

China’s Full-Spectrum UAS Dominance

By far the dominant exhibitor at DWC was China’s ministry of aviation industries (AVIC), which displayed its range of UAS platforms — armed and unarmed — along with a detailed PowerPoint presentation that showcased an end-to-end unmanned aircraft capability set, encompassing a range of airframes and payloads with complementary capabilities and a customised ground-control station (GCS). These were all integrated into a holistic concept of operations that looked very familiar to anyone who has seen a presentation on layered ISTAR intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities. AVIC refers to this as its ‘Total UAS Solution, i.e. all parts of it are made in China and are available for export.

At the tactical end are two small UAS platforms, the A-Hawk I and A-Hawk II. The former is an octo-copter with a claimed 65kg payload that can be used for package delivery and surveillance. It has a 30-minute flight time and a service ceiling of 3km. The larger A-Hawk II has four belt-driven ducted rotors with a claimed endurance of up to four hours, with flights possible up to 5km altitude and a payload limit of 120kg. This UAS platform has its own flight control software and GCS. AVIC has positioned the A-Hawk II as a weapons platform, fitted with two small air-to-surface missiles used for ‘attacking terrorists and their bases’, with firefighting and cargo transportation roles as secondary missions. The next layer of ISTAR is provided by the Wing Loong family of UAS platforms.

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