Kyle Mizokami – Popular Mechanics May 16, 2019
A Chinese defense contractor has unveiled a new mobile drone launcher designed to hunt and then destroy targets using the same drone. Described as a “multipurpose drone launching armored vehicle,” the vehicle can singlehandedly launch a swarm of drones, then direct them to converge on targets and detonate their explosive payloads.
The weapon system, displayed at this week’s Beijing Civil-Military Integration Expo 2019, was recently profiled in China’s Global Times tabloid and C4ISRNet. It consists of the YJ2080, a licensed Chinese copy of Russia’s Tigr 4×4 armored vehicle similar to armored versions of the Humvee personnel carrier. The YJ2080 is equipped with a dozen pneumatic launch tubes on a roof-mounted, retractable launch stand.
Four of the twelve launch tubes are reserved for SULA30 reconnaissance drones, each of which has a flight time of one hour. The SULA30 can transmit real-time imagery to friendly forces, helping them analyze the battlefield and pick out targets. The other eight launch tubes are packed with SULA89 drones, which carry 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of high explosive and fly at speeds of up to 180 kilometers (111 miles) an hour.
A typical mission would see a SULA30 drone pop out of a launch tube, spread its wings, and begin hunting the battlefield for enemy forces. Once the SULA30 identifies suitable targets, the vehicle can launch several larger SULA89 drones to go after “mobile light armored vehicles, field fortifications and armed personnel in cover.” The four-pound warhead is not heavy enough to go after tanks and other heavy armored vehicles, but stripping main battle tanks of their infantry support can slow them down a mechanized attack and make it more vulnerable to other weapons, such as anti-tank guided missiles.
The drone-armed YJ2080 is a new kind of weapon, having more in common with artillery than other weapons. Like artillery the drones can destroy targets beyond traditional line of sight and kill from above. Unlike artillery, which relies on forward forces to locate and provide the coordinates of targets, the Chinese drone system can search for and destroy its own targets. The tradeoff is that drones are considerably easier to shoot down than artillery shells. The system, or something like it, would be very useful to light infantry and airborne forces, providing artillery-like firepower in small, easily deployable packages.