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China shows off its new drone

Tracking China's military development isn't always easy. Public information can be spotty and official sources tend to be tight-lipped. But every once in a while, the Chinese military makes it easier for Beijing-watchers by showing off its newest technology in the open. This week, as the Party Congress officially begins the country's once-in-a-decade power transition, an annual airshow is underway in the city of Zuhai, near Hong Kong.

Here, via Chinese media-tracker Danwei, is the front page of the Huaxi Metropolis Daily, which features the Pterosaur (Wing Loong in Mandarin) unmanned aerial vehicle. Below that, some information on the Wing Loong UAV.

(Source: Huaxi Metropolis Daily)

The first thing you might notice that the Wing Loong looks pretty familiar, especially if you've ever seen a U.S. Predator drone. The Wing Loong is sometimes described as a Predator "clone" and appears to serve roughly similar functions, although it's not clear what China wants to use it for.

China reportedly began development of the Wing Loong in 2005, and sources differ on its first prototype flight, with reports ranging from 2007 to 2011, a reminder of how little we know about China's military. This week's flight is a rare public demonstration.

Here's how the Huaxi Daily glowingly describes the UAV, as translated by Danwei:

If you look at the Wing Loong from the outside, Huaxi Metropolis Daily says, it looks “enormous”, and if you put it side-by-side with the US manned drone L-39, the Wing Loong is “not inferior in any way. And at 1 million US dollars apiece, its cheaper than the US and Israeli drones to boot.” Manufactured by the Chengdu Airplane Design Research Institute (成都飞机设计研究所), the Wing Loong can reach an altitude of 5,300 meters and a range of 4,000 km, and has an endurance of 20 hours. It will be used for a variety of roles including reconnaissance, surveillance, ground attacks, disaster monitoring, anti-narcotics smuggling, disaster monitoring, and meteorological observation.

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