Skip to content

The Chinese Scorpion UCAV Is Instant Air Power

December 6, 2021
Via Chinese state media.

Air Show China 2021 will be remembered as a huge advertisement for the country’s status as a “pacing threat” to the US’ status as a superpower. The usage of the term “pacing threat” was chosen by the US military to better characterize the nature of its “great power competition” with China. A “pacing threat” endures for years, if not decades, and unlike Iran or Russia, won’t subside after its economy sputters. The US military is correct in framing China this way because, going by its unmanned aircraft alone, it has surpassed all expectations.

In fact, there were so many different types of drones at Air Show China 2021 that trying to categorize them, whether for combat or surveillance, proves laborious. A real standout was a three engine twin-boom model Chinese media called the “Twin-Tailed Scorpion.” Apparently, this is the brand chosen for it by Sichuan Tengdun Technology Co., Ltd. an aerospace manufacturer better known as “Tengden.” The Twin-Tailed Scorpion is a variant of an earlier twin engine model known as the TB001. Both are multirole drones that can be optimized for combat. With its three engines, two mounted on the wings and a third behind the main fuselage, the Twin-Tailed Scorpion has a mission endurance of 36 hours and–depending on which sources are consulted–a flight radius between 3,000 and 3,500 kilometers.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chinese-tengden-combat-drone-display-airshow-china-2021.jpg
Via Chinese state media.

But the twin engine TB001, which has three blade turbopropellers on each of its wings, manages the same flight characteristics and payload. Maybe the actual performance of the Twin-Tailed Scorpion varies depending on the end user’s requirements. It needs to be clarified many of the drones that appeared at Air Show China 2021 aren’t in service with the Chinese military and are meant for export. The chosen UCAVs of the PLA/PLAAF are the Wing Loong I/II and the GJ-11 carrier-based stealth drone; either model is able to carry and launch substantial amounts of ordnance. For the Twin-Tailed Scorpion to not be in service with the PLA is hardly disadvantageous; it should threaten the calculations of US and allied commanders in regions outside North America because many countries at odds with Washington, DC’s influence can afford to acquire it.

The payload of the Twin-Tailed Scorpion is on par with the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. During Air Show China 2021 its six hardpoints were loaded with missiles. These consisted of two air-launched cruise missiles and four smaller air-to-surface missiles. Of course, there are many different payloads available to this medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) drone–its actual flight ceiling is more or less 20,000 feet, which is standard for its class. But other models in the West scale greater heights during missions. India and Iran, and soon Pakistan, have UAVs either similar to the Twin-Tailed Scorpion or are its future competitors. Tengden insist the Twin-Tailed Scorpion is able to perform non-combat roles whether it has two or three engines.

The twin engine predecessor of the Twin-Tailed Scorpion called the TB001 is just as lethal with six hardpoints that accommodate a broad selection of air-launched ordnance. Militaries that acquire it get a boost in air power and distinct advantages compared to Israeli or Turkish UCAVs. First, Chinese suppliers are willing to provide a lot of munitions. Second, just like the “Cai Hong” family of drones it’s possible to order them in quantity. (It’s not out of the question for China’s friends to receive combat drones as part of financial aid packages.) The only downsides to export approved Chinese-made combat drones is they never fully match the performance metrics of US-made combat drones, which are subject to strict export controls anyway, and are prone to the usual attrition caused by pilot errors and operational risks.

The best aspects of the Twin-Tailed Scorpion are its mission endurance and payload equal a deadly combination for armies who need persistent air cover. In all likelihood Tengden can upgrade it for the end user and even transfer production locally.

Comments are closed.