New satellite imagery acquired by Digitalglobe shows that China has increased the deployment of Guizhou Aviation Industry Group (GAIG) EA-03 Xianglong high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to Yishuntun airbase in Jilin province.
The platform, identified by its unique box wing design and V shaped vertical stabilizers, is often considered China’s answer to the U.S.-built Global Hawk.
Imagery acquired in January showed up to six Xianglong at the airbase parked on the main operations apron. The numbers climbed from the two previously reported last year. Yishuntun is one of the few airbases currently known to host the UAV outside of Anshun — where new airframes are manufactured — and Malan, one of the PLAAF’s main UAV air bases.
Previous deployments include a rotation on Hainan Island near the South China Sea at Lingshui as well as a high altitude deployment at Tibet’s Shigatse. Imagery showed that the two airframes at Lingshui departed sometime in Q2 2018 while the three in Tibet relocated earlier this year near the same time China’s H-6 arrived post Balakot.
Additional commercial imagery acquired more recently of Yishuntun showed new construction activity around the parking aprons. Up to seven aircraft shelter footprints appear to be under construction along with several other support structures. The activity suggests that Yishuntun may become a more permanent deployment location for the platform. Given increasing concerns recently over the stability of the DPRK, China may feel a sustained ISR mission is required.
According to Jane’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Targets, the platform has a cruising speed around 405 kt, an operating altitude of 18,000 m, and a range of 3,780 nautical miles. Yishuntun is approximately 200 miles (about 320 km) from the DPRK border.
China has increased the ISR requirement on the border with the DPRK, adding at least four Xianglong since 2018.