Japanese Fighters Intercept China’s High-Flying WZ-7 Drone For First Time

China’s diamond-wing WZ-7 Soaring Dragon drones have suddenly expanded their operations, which is likely a sign of what’s to come. Chinese WZ-7 surveillance drones have appeared for two days in a row over the East China Sea, prompting Japanese fighter jets to scramble to intercept them on both occasions. This is the first time that the Japanese authorities have reported intercepts of the WZ-7, one of the most advanced drones in Chinese service, and it could be connected with the recent movements of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its supporting task force in the same area. Either way, the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) drone, with its unique joined-wing design, may well become a more regular feature of Chinese activities in the wider region, providing capabilities loosely analogous to the RQ-4 Global Hawk, at bottom. 

The WZ-7 is jet-powered, with an estimated range of 4,350 miles and a service ceiling of 60,000 feet. Its likely endurance is at least 10 hours but could be much higher. This ambiguity means that it may fall someway short in the high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) category compared to the RQ-4 Global Hawk, for example, although its high-altitude capability and large sensor payload make it well suited to peering deep into regional adversary countries from international airspace. The second photo shows an operational WZ-7 at Airshow China at Zhuhai in November 2022. Infinty 0/Wikimedia Commons. 

It will be interesting to see if WZ-7s continue to appear over the strait, and in the general area, in the days to come, or whether this was a temporary spike in activity more likely connected with the recent movement of the Liaoning. The latest cruise by this carrier according to Chinese media came closer to the key U.S. military outpost at Guam than ever before. Story and WZ-7 images courtesy of The WARZONE, Thedrive.com

Thanks to CDR David Place (USN/Ret), davidplace47[at]gmail[dot]com, and Robin E. Alexander, President ATC, alexander technical[at]gmail[dot]com, for their assistance with this report, the background for which appeared in their  # 23 - 1 - 20 JANUARY 2023 edition of the UNMANNED SYSTEMS NEWS (USN).

David distributes the USN, a free, comprehensive newsletter in PDF format every week or two, as well as serial news flashes, from which this NREF news update was sourced. To be included in his distribution, simply send a subscribe request to davidplace47[at]gmail[dot]com.