China is testing FH-95, a drone designed for electronic warfare. The drone has now passed a milestone performance test, according to Chinese media.
The FH-95 is a medium-range, twin-tailed UAV powered by a pusher-type propeller. It can be used for strike or reconnaissance missions, as well as electronic warfare (EW).
Chinese state-sponsored news site Global Times described the FH-95 as having a “ton-class takeoff weight, can [sic] carry more than 250 kilograms of a wide selection of mission payloads.”
The drone has “an endurance of more than 24 hours, allowing the operator to conduct complex combat missions including comprehensive reconnaissance in highly contested battlefield environments, as well as electronic warfare and pinpoint elimination,” Global Times added.
Electronic warfare drones can support manned aircraft, said Chen Jianguo, general manager for FH-95 manufacturer Aerospace Times Feihong Technology Company.
“Drones capable of electronic warfare, reconnaissance and early warning will become essential in combat as they can conduct remote detection outside the defense area or carry out tactical feints and saturated attacks in coordination with manned aircraft,” Jianguo said.
The FH-95 can support other drones
The FH-95 could also be used to support other drones.
“In a possible combat scenario, the FH-95 electronic warfare drone could conduct electromagnetic interference first, providing cover for the FH-97, a high-speed stealth drone, to penetrate and destroy hostile defense lines,” Global Times wrote. “The FH-92A, a type of traditional armed reconnaissance drone, can then conduct follow-up attacks.”
The XQ-58A, which looks like a scaled-down manned F-35 stealth fighter, would operate alongside – and be controlled by – manned combat aircraft. The drones could go in ahead of the manned aircraft to conduct reconnaissance, locate and suppress enemy air defenses, or even engage enemy aircraft.
The FH-95 completed its first test flight in 2017, was delivered to a “key client” in 2019, and received its first export contract in 2021, according to Global Times.
The effects of electronic warfare drones on the battlefield
The idea of using drones as EW platforms isn’t new. Russia’s Orlan-10, for example, carries jammers designed to disrupt cell phone communications, or even hack into – and take over – cell phone towers. The Orlan has been deployed in the Ukraine war, where Ukraine claims to have shot down many of them.
EW drones, like the FH-95, could have a significant effect on the battlefield. As expendable and unmanned platforms, they can fly in hazardous skies where commanders might hesitate to risk manned aircraft and pilots. Especially ominous is the prospect of swarm EW drones, whereby hordes of small UAVs would saturate an area to disrupt radio, radar, and cellular communications.
The effects on modern armies could be significant. This is especially true for the U.S., whose concept of warfare involves highly integrated operations tightly connected by data networks.
For example, the Pentagon’s ambitious Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) project envisions a sensor-to-shooter system in which platforms such as drones can instantly relay target coordinates to long-range missiles. This will allow them to hit the target in minutes. If China can jam those links during wartime, it could impair U.S. operations.