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China Tests Turboprop Drone Engine at High Altitude

China has tested a powerful turboprop engine designed for drones in the country’s southwest plateau regions, state-owned Global Times reported.

The new engine is set to boost the country’s military logistics support and monitoring capabilities. It was developed by aerospace giant China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp and tested from September to October this year in the Tibet Plateau region, near the disputed border with India.

An unmanned helicopter powered by the new engine was flown at 5,191 meters (3.2 miles) above sea level during testing. Traditional piston engines can only enable flight up to 3,000 meters (1.86 miles) above sea level.

The engine, weighing 18 kilograms (40 pounds), can support fixed-wing aircraft of 400 to 600 kilograms (880 to 1,320 pounds) or helicopters of 240 to 360 kilograms (530 to 790 pounds) up to 5,200 meters (3.2 miles) above sea level.

China is investing heavily in drone technology, particularly for use in the country’s southwest plateau region, as drones can quickly deliver medical supplies to wounded troops and perform monitoring tasks (replacing patrols) involving the risk of lives.

India ‘Concerned’

China’s advanced drone technology is a cause of concern for India, its regional rival in South Asia. 

Development of the new engine comes amid China’s heavy troop deployment along the Indian border. India and China have engaged in aggressive standoffs since May 2020 in Eastern Ladakh, where both sides have claims over the mountainous terrain along the 3,440 km (2,100 m) border.

Last week, India’s Border Security Force Director General Pankaj Kumar Singh said that 67 Chinese drones have been sighted along the western border with Pakistan this year. 

China has also begun supplying border troops with better cold-resistant clothing and equipment for military operations in harsh winter conditions. The supplies include sleeping bags, down training coats, and down cotton-padded jackets and pants. China’s Central Military Commission is also working on improved thermoses, camouflage suits for snipers, anti-fragment goggles, and electrically-heated gloves.

India Ramps up Drone Surveillance at Border

India has also ramped up surveillance on its border with China in Arunachal Pradesh using Israeli drones. The Israeli-made Heron medium-altitude long-endurance drones are being used for round-the-clock surveillance in the mountainous terrain. 

Heron drones can climb to 30,000 feet (9.1 km) and fly for up to 30 hours.

The Indian army has also formed an independent aviation brigade in Arunachal Pradesh to increase night surveillance.


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