China has tested a high-altitude drone helicopter designed for missions on the country’s disputed border with India, according to state media reports.
A prototype of the AR-500C unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) completed its maiden flight at an airport 4,411 metres (14,450 feet) above sea level in Sichuan province in southwestern China, neighbouring Tibet, on Sunday, the reports said.
During the 15-minute flight, the Chinese-designed and built drone completed a series of tests including climbing, hovering and rotating before steadily landing, its developer, state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (Avic), said on Monday.
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The AR-500C is meant to be a reconnaissance and communication hub that can also serve as an electronic jammer, guide weapons fire, and detect nuclear radiation or chemical contamination.
The test flight confirmed that the drone could carry a payload of 80kg (176lbs) and stay aloft for more than five hours. Avic said the drone could deliver cargo to the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau.
“This means that in a plateau rescue mission it can deliver a day’s supply of life-saving food for more than 30 people in one flight,” chief designer Zeng Guogui said.
The test-flight area was roughly the same altitude as the Himalayan region that includes the Line of Actual Control where China and India have been locked in a tense territorial stand-off.
With winter approaching and snow and ice already blocking roads in the Himalayas, logistics have become the critical issue for both sides’ forward deployed troops.
Earlier this month, state broadcaster CCTV reported that the People’s Liberation Army was testing a “swarm” of small quadrotor drones to deliver hot meals to the outposts in the middle of the mountainous region. However, each of those small drones could only carry a small pack of food.
This AR-500C would bolster transport capacity, with the ability to carry heavier payloads, stay airborne for longer, and be more versatile, according to Avic.
The PLA has also equipped its troops with combat drones, including reconnaissance/strike UAV CH-4 and others modified for high-altitude missions.
Meanwhile, India is reportedly buying from the United States as many as 30 MQ-9B SkyGuardian reconnaissance/strike drones in a US$3 billion deal that also includes an initial lot of six MQ-9 Reapers to be delivered in the next few months.
The SkyGuardian has improved sensors for reconnaissance and enough fuel to fly for 40 hours at an altitude of 15,000 metres (49,000 feet).
The US has also approved the sale to Taiwan of four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones to boost its defences against the PLA.
More from South China Morning Post:
- China, India send in supplies for thousands of border troops ahead of brutal winter
- China tests drones, new rocket launcher near disputed India border area
- China-India border dispute: Tibet war games test PLA forces at altitude despite pledge to disengage
- China-India border dispute: drones prove their worth at high altitude
This article Lift-off for China’s high-altitude helicopter drone prototype first appeared on South China Morning Post