Japan deploys fighter jets to thwart new Chinese invader; JSO says PLAAF’s WL-10 UAV has been spotted for the first time

On May 27, the Chinese PLA Air Force’s WL-10, an unmanned aerial vehicle designed for long-duration high-altitude missions, conducted flying activities over the East China Sea.

Japan’s Joint Staff Office (JSO), which oversees the operations of the ground, maritime and air self-defense forces, announced that the incident prompted an immediate response from Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, which dispatched fighter jets to counter the invading UAV. intercept. .

The interception was the first for this specific UAV model. The Japanese military identified it during airspace violation protocols.

Tokyo also published a photo showing the drone and its trajectory. However, the Joint Staff Office refrained from disclosing the specific aircraft dispatched to intercept the drone.

The JSO took to to the emergency launch and response of #AirSelfDefenseForce #SouthernAirDefenseForce fighter jets. This is the first time this aircraft has been identified in an airspace violation by the Japanese Navy.”

Credit: JSO

Japanese Defense Ministry officials said the WL-10 reconnaissance and attack drone flew east from mainland China. The drone then followed a northeasterly course before returning along the same route as initially.

The WL-10 drone is a relatively new addition to the Chinese drone arsenal. It was first displayed at the Nanchang Airshow in 2020, and in 2022, reports surfaced indicating its adoption by the PLA Air Force.

While the specific motive behind the WL-10’s flight remains unknown, China has expanded its drone operations near Japan’s borders in recent years.

The increase in Chinese drone flights near Japan is believed to be related to strategic considerations, especially Taiwan. Analysts point to China’s anti-access, area denial (A2/AD) framework, which aims to deter foreign intervention in contingencies like those involving Taiwan.

In March 2024, the People’s Liberation Army’s high-flying WZ-7 Soaring Dragon reconnaissance drones undertook their first mission over the Sea of ​​Japan, with the route indicating a crossing over Russia or North Korea.

Previous examples include the TB-001 combat drone that flew through the Miyako Strait in 2021 and 2022, indicating a pattern of surveillance and possible targeting of US military assets.

The WL-10 drone

The Wing Loong-10 is a High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle with certain stealth features. The drone has a wingspan of approximately 10 meters and a height of almost 2 meters.

It features a large trapezoidal twin dorsal engine intake and twin truncated hidden exhausts, indicating that two engines were used.

The WL-10 can carry a wide range of ammunition, including LD-16, BBM2, AG-300M, LS6100, GB-4, BA21, YJ-9E, FT-7 and TL-20. The WL-10 is believed to be powered by a pair of domestically developed Wo Shan-500 (WS-500/Turbofan-500) small turbofan engines.

Military analysts have observed that the WL-10 entered service as a dedicated electronic warfare (EW) UAV. The drone is designed to locate electromagnetic signals between 100 and 300 MHz at a distance of 200 kilometers and has a maximum take-off weight of 3,200 kilograms.

It has a ceiling height of 12,500 meters and a top speed of 520 kilometers per hour. The WL-10 can conduct electronic surveillance and is said to have an endurance of more than eight hours.

Wing Loong 10 drone China
File image: Wing Loong 10 drone China

Chinese military aviation expert Rick Joe previously shared insights with EurAsian Times, noting that the drone is relatively small, especially compared to larger models such as the US-made Global Hawk or the Chinese WZ-7 UAV.

He said it has small signature reduction functions and appears to be primarily an electronic warfare (EW) UAV. However, he could not say whether its capabilities include active electronic countermeasures (ECM), electronic intelligence (ELINT) or other functions.

The WL-10’s advanced capabilities give China an advantage in aerial intelligence gathering within the first island chain, which also includes Japan and Taiwan.

Japan fighter jets
File image

Experts believe that in its electronic warfare role, the WL-10 could be equipped to collect data on air defense systems, which could add to China’s extensive electronic warfare resources.

Nevertheless, the increasing frequency of Chinese drone operations near Japan’s borders, including the recent flight of a WL-10 drone over the East China Sea and previous combat drone missions, underlines Beijing’s strategic focus on the region.

In addition to its use by Beijing, the Wing Loong-10B, an export variant of the Wing Loong-10 (the WL-10), will enter service with the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).

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