THE OPERATIONAL USE of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aerial
systems (UAS) — commonly referred to simply as drones — has increased
dramatically within the last decade.
Their mission spectrum has evolved too,beginning with reconnaissance and now
including combat roles. And as drones operational utility has expanded, the
same is true of their size, complexity and relative autonomy. While these trends
have been led by the US and Israel,China has followed suit, and explored
some very different approaches.
The operational use of UAVs is nothing new for the People’s Liberation Army
Air Force (PLAAF). In the early 1980s the WZ-5 drone was launched from
modified Tupolev Tu-4 bombers, and later from Y-8 transports. This UAV was
developed by reverse-engineering recovered US Air Force AQM-34 Firebees
that had been downed during the Vietnam War.
In general, China followed a similar approach to the US. Today, the People’s
Liberation Army operates a wide range of different UAVs in various roles. In
some cases the platforms in question are similar to their Western counterparts,
while others are very different.
Standing apart, and still little understood, is a PLAAF brigade equipped
with retired J-6 fighters converted to become J-6W/B-6 unmanned combat
aerial vehicles (UCAVs).
The basis of this unique UCAV is the Shenyang J-6, long since retired from
first-line service as a fighter. In almost all the cases identified so far, these drones
are based on the J-6Bing, which was the most widely used version of the J-6 with
the PLAAF and People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF). In the West
the J-6Bing is known as the J-6C.
While early ‘basic’ J-6 airframes were almost exact copies of the original Soviet-
made MiG-19S, some of the later Chinese variants introduced several improvements.
First of all, the J-6I to J-6IV series used modified air intakes. Other aerodynamic
changes included moving the drag ‘chute location from beneath the fuselage to a
streamlined housing in the root of the vertical tail unit. The arrangement of the
airbrakes was also revised. When these latter modifications were introduced to
the ‘basic’ J-6 after around 1968, the type was given the new designation J-6Bing.
Additionally, a higher-powered and more reliable version of the Soviet RD-9F-811
engine was installed as the WP-6A(WP-6Jia). These enhancements proved
successful and a first flight was made on August 6, 1969.
It should be pointed out that the J-6Bing was never designated as the J-6C in
Chinese service. In fact there was never a J-6C variant, despite Eastern and Western
publications frequently describing this version as ‘the standard Chinese fighter’.
It can be assumed that the J-6C designation was simply based on an error
in early translations of the original Russian designation ‘Миґ-19С’, in which the Cyrillic
‘C’ suggests J-6C to the English reader, rather than the correct ‘S’ (for MiG-19S).
Another possible point of confusion could come from the fact that the MiG-19S was
codenamed ‘Farmer-C’ in the West.
Altogether, 3,562 J-6 aircraft were produced by the main facility at
Shenyang between 1964 and 1984, while Guizhou built another 115
machines up to mid-1975. The PLAAF and PLANAF had officially
retired their J-6s from the fighter role by 1992. However, around 200 former
fighters were converted to UCAVs.
They are now designated B-6, or sometimes J-6W. During their
conversion, their wing-root 30mm cannon, ejection seat and other
life-support systems were removed and replaced by new flight control,
navigational and fire control systems including a datalink.
The drones’ guidance system is said to rely on GPS but might also include passive
radar homing for possible anti-radiation missions. In terms of operational use,
these unmanned ‘Farmers’ are intended to
be employed as low-cost ground attack UCAVs armed with two 250kg (551lb)
bombs. Alternatively, they can act as decoys to probe, disrupt or even suppress
enemy air defense systems. Some reports even suggest they could be modified
for electronic intelligence or electronic countermeasures missions. So far, all J-6Ws
identified have been based in the south-eastern theaters facing Taiwan, where they
are located at several different dispersed airfields.
Chins's unique UCAVs based on J-6Bing
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Posted 05 November 2017 - 08:35 PM