China’s enormous Divine Eagle UAV is larger than the U.S. Air Force’s Global Hawk, recently released satellite imagery suggests.
While China’s UAVs are getting better, if not bigger, little is known about one of its latest models.
Photos of China’s mysterious UAV appeared in May and June while a concept of operations along with payload specs was released earlier in February.
The Divine Eagle (or Shen Diao) is built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s 601 Institute and will operate as a high altitude long endurance surveillance drone helping defend China’s airspace against would-be adversaries.
China’s concept of operations suggests the drone will provide early warning against enemy aircraft and support the battle management mission directing friendly targeting of enemy carrier groups.
A recent space snapshot acquired by DigitalGlobe shows the twin-fuselage, single-engine drone parked on the south end of Shenyang’s runway, possibly indicative of pre-post flight activity.
Although, the activity could also suggest taxi trials, it was rumored that the aircraft’s first test flight occurred sometime in December, according to Chinese internet sources.
Imagery also confirmed details about the drone’s specific characteristics. Measurements taken in Google Earth would indicate a wingspan and length of approximately 40 and 15 meters, respectively.
With its large size and aft-mounted high aspect ratio wings, it’s suspected to have a take off weight over 15 tons, which would be larger than the Global Hawk, just over 14.5 tons.
Though little else can be confirmed, payload specs released in February of a similar variant appeared to suggest a variety of surveillance and targeting capabilities.
The graphic identified at least 5 radars integrated into the airframe including a 160 degree forward-looking X/UHF AMTI AESA radar, two 120 degree side-looking X/UHF AMTI/SAR/GMTI AESA and two rear-looking X/UHF AMTI AESA covering 152 degrees.
In other words, the drone’s radars provide 360-degree coverage, identifying targets regardless of weather conditions and stealth characteristics.
Assuming the specs are correct, the Divine Eagle would represent a serious step forward for Chinese unmanned capabilities potentially bolstering China’s A2/D2 strategy.
It’s this type of platform that would not only extend the reach of the country’s situation awareness but also help collect targeting information beyond the first island chain. Similarly in 2013, China began using UAVs to watch over the East China Sea with a previously renovated airfield.
Given China’s recent runway construction in the disputed Spratleys, it’s possible this drone may one day be deployed to watch over activity in the South China Sea.