Skip to content

The Drone Index: Norinco Sky Saker

September 3, 2014
Chinese Norinco attack UAV

Via Norinco

For a country that builds  so many UAVs China’s military and internal security apparatchiks can’t seem to decide what to do with them. While target drones have been used for decades to train the PLA’s anti-aircraft troops, the rise of American-made UAVs like the Predator and the Reaper reignited Beijing’s interest in unmanned systems.

The Sky Saker, prominently featured on the revamped website of military-industrial conglomerate Norinco, is an armed UAV modeled after the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper.  Since Norinco doesn’t publish specifications, the Sky Saker’s characteristics are the stuff of guesswork. The similarities with the Reaper are obvious, from its retractable tricycle landing gear to tail fin assembly. Thus, dimensions can be similar.

But it’s unclear if the Sky Saker is Norinco’s unique spin on an American design or a borrowed Wing Loong, another MQ-9 Reaper analog built by the Aviation Industry Conglomerate of China (AVIC). If the Sky Saker is a copy of the Reaper, a.k.a. the Predator B, then like any reverse engineered system it matches the basic performance specifications of the original.

In this case, the Sky Saker’s speed must be in the 70 to 90 kilometers per hour spectrum with a maximum range beyond 3,000 km thanks to a 500 horsepower turboprop engine. Assuming the engine is smaller, then the Sky Saker needs modest proportions or risks being underpowered. An estimate for its flight ceiling could vary between 25,000 or 40,000 feet with mission times in the 20 hour range if the Sky Saker is a genuine Medium Altitude High Endurance (MALE) UAV.

The Sky Saker’s wingspan should at least be 42 feet wide with an airframe 25 feet long. Its dimensions and internal payload suggests it weighs a minimum of 1,500 lbs.

When it comes to ISR, then the Sky Saker’s surveillance and detection suite includes infrared cameras, thermal sights, laser designators, and built-in synthetic aperture radar. Four hard points allow the Sky Saker to carry either bombs, rocket pods, or anti-tank missiles like the AR-1 or AR-2 mass-produced by Norinco. Apparently, the “Sky Saker” brand applies to a short endurance drone with a turbojet engine. This variant is known as the Sky Saker FX500. It’s launched from the bed of a transporter via a rocket booster. Once in flight its turbojet allows to loiter for as long as two hours. The Sky Saker FX500 doesn’t carry weapons.

News about China’s latest hardware may easily proliferate across the internet. The problem is the accompanying information isn’t always accurate. This holds true for the Sky Saker, whose propeller-driven variant has disappeared from view. It’s worth noting how open Norinco is about its modest UAV portfolio. Best known for its small arms exports, Norinco oversees strategic businesses like mineral extraction, logistics, and energy. Knock off assault rifles, machine guns, and munitions earns Norinco billions from developing countries with wartime needs.

The question is: Who’s buying the Sky Saker?