New Chinese combat drone WJ-700 performs maiden flight

CASIC / China Youth Daily

China performed a successful first flight test of its WJ-700 Falcon, a new jet-powered combat and reconnaissance drone.

According to the state news agency Xinhua, the test ocurred in the early morning of January 11, 2020, at an undisclosed location. Both the aircraft and its control systems operated as planned, the report indicated.

WJ-700 Falcon is a medium/high altitude long endurance (MALE/HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of serving as a reconnaissance, surveillance and early warning platform. The drone can also conduct electronic warfare missions, as well as carry a “large” payload which includes numerous kinds of high-precision munitions. 

It is developed by HIWING, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). The aircraft was first showcased at Zhuhai Airshow in 2018.

Although neither exact characteristics, nor the role of WJ-700 was not disclosed, earlier reports suggested that the UAV has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 3,500 kilograms (7,716 pounds) and an endurance of up to 20 hours. The WJ-700 Falcon reportedly features certain stealth capabilities. 

If this information is correct, WJ-700 is substantially smaller, but ultimately a similar competitor to the General Atomics Avenger turbofan-powered drone, which first flew in 2009.

It also brings up a possibility to use the Falcon as an AI-controlled loyal wingman to manned fighter jets, something Chinese official sources have hinted at before. The Avenger is currently participating in Skyborg, a program to develop loyal wingmen for the United States Air Force (USAF). 

According to Xinhua, WJ-700 is intended for both domestic and international markets and is set to enter into service in the next five to 10 years. 


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