China announced that it has conducted tests to combine a UAV and a helicopter for target designation.
Strikes out of sight.
The use of UAVs by China is now commonplace, and remotely piloted aircrafts are becoming increasingly common in the country, in both civil and military applications. Last week, on November 18, China reported that it had conducted tests to bring a helicopter and a UAV together. The ambition for the air brigade of the 71st Armed Group of the PLA (Chinese army) was to be able to make the two platforms communicate so that the drone could designate a target that would then be engaged by the helicopter.
Guiding and aiming.
According to Chinese sources, the tests proved conclusive and all targets were hit, despite the difficult climatic context. But the meteorological environment is indeed one of the elements demonstrating the interest of such a combination. When visibility is reduced, it is difficult for the helicopter crew to locate the target, especially at long distances. The use of a UAV makes it possible to identify the target, freeing the crew from visual constraints, and to fire beyond the field of view (BVR - beyond visual range). This increases the range of missiles.
Technically speaking, one of the challenges of this UAV-helicopter collaboration lies in the exchange of data between the two platforms and their communication. Similarly, in terms of human ressources, the PLA has stepped up exchanges and cooperation between helicopter pilots and UAV operators, so that they can share their know-how, operational constraints and working methods.
In order to take the exercise scenario further, ground-to-air defence systems were used and simulated firings were carried out. The helicopter was able to avoid them while conducting strikes on the targets, which were always designated by the drones.
This type of innovation is now part of the new uses imagined for UAVs, complementing the capabilities of historic aircraft, i.e. airplanes and helicopters. Moreover, China is not alone in working on these developments, since MBDA already presented its Lynkeus project in March 2019, where a Novadem NX70 UAV from Novadem was used to designate targets for its MMP missile. By combining these two technologies, the ambition is to be able to complete in-depth observation and in particular facilitate target designation. While the MMP missile has an autonomous navigation capability, it can be engaged on a target that is not visible to the shooter, but whose coordinates are known.