Leaked Pentagon intelligence indicates China may have established its first military unit tasked with operating drones that can fly three times the speed of sound and provide a cutting-edge reconnaissance advantage, the Washington Post reported.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency intelligence assessment dated Aug. 9 says Beijing has “almost certainly” established its first unmanned aerial vehicle division at an airbase in eastern China, according to the Post. Satellite imagery on the document showing two WZ-8 rocket-propelled spy drones stationed at the base that could help the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gather real-time geospatial data to aid military operations, including those related to Taiwan.
“It’s a weapon for anti-access and area denial,” not designed to launch attacks, Chi Li-pin, director of the Taiwanese military’s aeronautical systems research division at the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology told the Post.
“Taken together, we’re looking at a PLA that is developing a reconnaissance strike complex: Find the enemy, hit the enemy, kill the enemy,” Dean Cheng, a nonresident senior fellow with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, told the outlet. (RELATED: China Outpaces US In Research On Critical Energy, Defense Technology, Report Finds)
The WZ-8 is equipped with “electro-optical” sensors — often used to provide visible and infrared imaging capabilities in drones, according to Aerotech — to amass intelligence on South Korea and Taiwan’s main island, according to the Post. It also operates synthetic aperture radar equipment, allowing it to collect mapping data during dark or foggy conditions.
“Engine features are primarily associated with rocket fuel,” the document says regarding the vehicle’s self-propelling capabilities.
The document is one among a trove of intelligence assessments posted on an online discussion forum for several months, allegedly by a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. While several dozen documents are circulating publicly, the Post said it obtained additional documents no longer saved elsewhere online.
The document is labeled “Secret,” a lower level of classification, and of interest to the Five Eyes network of intelligence sharing governments.
Beijing unveiled the WZ-8 unmanned reconnaissance aircraft in 2019 during a parade for the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, according to the Post. Most analysts at the time doubted the drones’ operational ability at the time.
The assessment also shows potential, “not necessarily authoritative” flight paths for the drone and a H6-M Badger bomber aircraft used to launch it, according to the Post. After flying just off China’s east coast to launch the drone, one route guides the drone into Taiwanese airspace at an altitude of 100,000 feet, while another path carries it into South Korean airspace along the Western coast, near the capital city of Seoul.
The drone division appears to operate out of an airfield that may host the PLA Eastern Theater Command’s 10th bomber division, the Post reported, citing open-source researchers and analysts. The Eastern Theater Command takes the lead in conducting military operations near or against Taiwan.
The Department of Defense declined to comment on the authenticity of the document, referring the Daily Caller News Foundation to spokeswoman Sabrina Singh’s comments on Monday.
Singh said the Pentagon was still investigating the scope of the leak.
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