Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Harpy anti-radiation UAV.

Dr. Thomas Withington – In June, the Republic of China Air Force confirmed a five-year programme worth $2.5 billion to develop a new Anti-Radiation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (ARUAV), following the programme’s approval by the country’s law-makers.

Few details have emerged regarding the specification of the ARUAV, although local reports suggested that the aircraft would have a range sufficient for to attack ground-based air surveillance radars positioned along the southeast coast of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This would translate into a range of 385 nautical miles/nm (713 kilometres/km).

The design for the ARUAV was first exhibited in 2017. At the time, the weapon’s range was reportedly 162nm (300km). Does this indicate that the range has been significantly increased in the intervening two years?

Analysis published by the Taiwan Sentinel in 2017 added that the ARUAV could loiter for 100 hours and had a top speed of 100 knots (185 kilometres-per-hour). The analysis continued that the drone is designed to destroy the targeted radar by kinetic force alone.

Reports have remarked on the striking similarity the ARUAV shares with Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Harpy anti-radiation UAV. There is no record of Taiwan having procured the Harpy from IAI.

Given the similarity of the ARUAV’s design it is reasonable to assume that the munition has a similar electromagnetic performance to the Harpy. Open sources state that the latter is effective against radars transmitting in the two gigahertz/GHz to 18GHz waveband at a minimum. This provides Harpy with the ability to engage the vast majority of ground-based and naval surveillance and fire control radars. A newer version of the Harpy, known as the Harpy-NG which was exhibited by IAI in 2016 in Singapore. This had a frequency extension down to 800MHz. Thus the ARUAV may be able to cover similarly low wavebands.

Such capabilities would be highly suitable for the Republic of China Air Force. The PRC has poured investment into low frequency radars in recent years. The East China Research Institute of Electronic Engineering’s JY-14 Ultra High Frequency ground-based air surveillance radar, which transmits on a waveband of 1.5GHz to 2.1GHz is a good example.

It has been alleged in some open sources that this radar can detect aircraft with a low RCS (Radar Cross Section) and is said to be the most numerous such radar in service in the PRC. The ARUAV, by virtue of its size, will have an even smaller RCS compared to inhabited aircraft designed with a low RCS. This could make the ARUAV harder to detect using these radars, but would enable the ARUAV to be used in a ‘kamikaze’ fashion; to hit radars capable of detecting low RCS aircraft at the start of an air campaign. This could be done with a view to sanitising corridors of airspace through which combat aircraft can ingress and egress as they prosecute their targets.

As to the extent that the ARUAV is a copy of the Harpy, the jury remains undecided. Sources close to the Taiwanese defence establishment shared with Armada Analysis that Israel does maintain defence cooperation with Taiwan but that this is not thought to have provided Taipai with technology such as the Harpy. Israel may have provided the airframe design for the ARUAV, but stopped short of furnishing Taiwan with the aircraft’s electronics. Similarly, Taiwanese engineers may have simply used the Harpy design as a guideline to design their own complete munition. One thing is certain. The ARUAV is almost certainly highly capable and could present a threat to PRC ground-based air defences during any future conflict.

by Dr. Thomas Withington