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The Drone Index: AVIC Cloud Shadow

May 6, 2022
Via Chinese state media.

It’s no longer surprising how China’s aerospace manufacturers offer some of the most sophisticated combat drones ever assembled. Unencumbered by export controls and transparency there are almost no barriers for countries in whatever part of the world to scale up their air power by acquiring UAVs such as the Cloud Shadow. Since it was first displayed at a Middle Eastern arms show in 2017 this specific model represents the bleeding edge in its class of jet-powered multirole combat drones.

Product information gleaned from AVIC and Chinese media reveal the Cloud Shadow is a high altitude combat drone whose ceiling reaches as high as 46,000 feet; it easily surpasses most fixed wing UAVs in this criteria. Yet it’s best to expect the Cloud Shadow operates at lower altitudes on real world missions rather than the inflated numbers promoted by its manufacturer. Another important detail to keep in mind is ts reliance on a still unidentified turbojet engine limits its endurance to a fraction of other combat drones that rely on propeller-driven turbo diesel engines. This may no longer be the case, however, ever since the Chinese government adapted Cloud Shadows as the “Wing Loong 10” from 2020 onward to perform flights intended gather data from typhoons and other atmospheric events. Since 2021 modifications were introduced to the Wing Loong 10’s engine and how this alters its performance as a intelligence and surveillance platform is worth contemplating.

As a combat drone the Cloud Shadow’s performance characteristics are its best selling points. Flight range exceeds 2,000 kilometers and its payload reaches 1,900 pounds that covers its pod along with the optics and the different ordnance it carries under each wing. The Cloud Shadow’s swept wings feature hardpoints for three missiles or small diameter bombs each. The exact type in either category is determined by the end user who can choose from different Chinese manufacturers. Automatic take off and landing are a given and Cloud Shadow’s are able to operate in even the most rudimentary airfields. The ideal end user of the Cloud Shadow, which is sold three at a time together with a ground control station, are governments or militaries who need intelligence gathering resources over land and sea, day or night, in any climate. As a model of strike aircraft it does present an attractive replacement for older ground attack fighter jets.

The status of the Cloud Shadow with the PLA and its various branches is unclear because many other drone models are entering service. Trying to draw comparisons between it and a similar American combat drone isn’t very helpful. The the GA-ASI Predator C Avenger, for example, has a heavier and larger airframe and qualifies in a different class. When the Avenger’s flight ceiling, payload, and mission endurance are considered there aren’t any Chinese-made drones that surpass it unless high altitude models such as the WJ-700 or the WZ-7 are brought up–the latter model is better pitted against the Global Hawk. There are so many different jet-powered combat drones from China available for export that it boggles the mind how close to none have found end users.

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