US-based site Defense News has obtained a satellite image revealing the presence of what seems to be a WZ-8 supersonic reconnaissance drone stationed outside of one of the two recently constructed hangars at China's Lu'an Airbase.
The satellite image, dated December 21, was provided by Planet Labs, an American public Earth-imaging company. It shows the presence of a WZ-8 supersonic drone outside one of the newly built hangars at China's Lu'an Airbase. It is worth noting that a leaked classified US military document, dated August 9, also revealed two WZ-8s parked at the same airbase.
In April, The Washington Post reported on the document, which had initially been posted on the group chat service Discord. The document was allegedly shared by a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.
As per the document, the WZ-8 drone was reported to have the capability of reaching speeds of Mach 3, which is three times the speed of sound. It could achieve this speed at an altitude of 100,000 feet (30 kilometers).
The document also depicted two possible flight routes for both the WZ-8 supersonic drone and the twin-engined H6-M bomber responsible for its launch. The image outlined a scenario in which the aircraft would take off from the Luan base, the bomber releasing the WZ-8 drone off the eastern coast of mainland China, and the drone subsequently entering either Taiwanese or South Korean airspace.
The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has emphasised the significance of drones in its military exercises near Taiwan, recognizing their crucial role in missions involving surveillance, blockades, strikes, and potential assassinations. Unmanned aerial vehicles are expected to play a pivotal role in various aspects of operations against the island.
At the end of April, Taiwan reported the first instance of PLA drones circling the island. This marked the initial occurrence of such drone activities in the region as reported by Taiwan.
The WZ-8 was publicly showcased for the first time during the National Day parade in Beijing on October 1, 2019. During that event, it was described as a "high-altitude, high-speed reconnaissance drone" without further specification of its capabilities, reported South China Morning Post.
However, when the WZ-8 was exhibited at AirShow China in Zhuhai in 2021, it had already been put into service by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force. State media reported that the drone had advanced reconnaissance capabilities as well as the ability to assess battle damage effectively, indicating its cutting-edge nature at that time.