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Chinese ‘Airborne Aircraft Carrier’ Launches Drone Swarm

The make or features of the “mother drone” or smaller drones are unknown.

A few days after the US Air Force announced a combat drone launch of a smaller drone from its internal bay in a test flight, Global Times reported that a Chinese company test-flew an “airborne swarm carrier” last month.

The Beijing-run news outlet detailed the flight saying that nine smaller drones were released from under the belly of a “mother ship” drone on March 20.

The make or features of the “mother drone” or smaller drones were not disclosed.

The outlet further detailed that the smaller drones were dropped sequentially from the unmanned aircraft to allow them to gather in a swarm formation.

‘Airborne Aircraft Carrier’

Citing defense experts, Global Times wrote that the airborne swarm carrier could replicate the role of an aircraft carrier in the air if its size is significantly enhanced. This will allow it to carry a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and payloads for multiple missions.

“This system is characterized by its long-range, strong anti-jamming capability, multiple types of payloads, accurate guidance links, and low logistics support requirements,” Global Times quoted the manufacturer, Zhongtian Feilong, as saying.

“…it is flexible, safe, highly efficient, independent and easy to operate even under complicated environments for different types of combat missions like reconnaissance, early warning, jamming, attack, and evaluation.”

USAF Takes Giant Leap

Drone swarms and the concept of releasing them from a mother ship are gaining traction around the world.

The US has been rapidly developing this technology during the last two and a half years, taking a significant step last month when a Valkyrie combat drone launched an ALTIUS-600 smaller drone from its cargo bay in flight.

Valkyrie drone
The Valkyrie drone demonstrates the separation of the ALTIUS-600 small UAS in a test at the US Army Yuma Proving Ground test range, Arizona: Image: US Air Force

India’s Two Drone Swarm Projects

The Indian Army also demonstrated its drone swarm capability for the first time in January when a group of 75 UAVs flew together in a swarm formation during a live display. 

The highlight of the show was when a mother drone released four smaller drones of varying types.

“The Indian Army appears to be using three types of UAV: a quadcopter probably for sensing, a six-rotor mothership drone, and the small quadcopters with explosives on them,” said security analyst Zak Kallenborn about the demonstration to Forbes. 

India is also reportedly planning to develop the capability of launching combat drones from the bay of a manned aircraft in order to saturate enemy air defenses, allowing the manned aircraft to penetrate enemy territory.

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