China’s new airborne swarm carrier (via WeChat account of Zhongtian Feilong)

Chinese company Zhongtian Feilong recently concluded tests of a new unmanned aerial mother ship that can carry multiple smaller drones and release them in the air for missions like reconnaissance and attack.

In a statement last week, the company said that the “airborne aircraft carrier” made a test flight on March 20. Just like a maritime aircraft carrier housing different types of aircraft such as fighters and early warning aircraft, this new system can carry multiple types of drones to serve different purposes.

During the test, a mother ship, which seems to be a fixed wing, vertical takeoff and landing-capable drone, carried nine smaller drones under its belly. The mother ship opened the aircraft bay after arriving at a designated mission point and dropped the smaller drones in order, while also ensuring the speed, direction, attitude and distance of dropping could match the requirement so the smaller drones could form a swarm.

It is not known whether the system is capable of retrieving drones in the air.

China Tests Unmanned Drone Swarm Carrier

XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aircraft

This system is characterized by its long range, strong anti-jamming capability, multiple types of payloads, accurate guidance links and low logistics support requirements, the company said, noting that it is flexible, safe, highly efficient, independent and easy to operate even under complicated environments for different types of combat missions like reconnaissance, early warning, jamming, attack and evaluation.

A military expert told the semi-official Global Times outlet that this new concept in swarm warfare would rapidly increase the number of active aircraft in a mission area.

This system’s western analogue is the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie drone. On Monday, the U.S. Air Force announced that this aircraft launched a smaller drone, ALTIUS-600, that can be used for electronic warfare and ISR missions. The Air Force is experimenting with using the Valkyrie as a communications node for the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets, as well as assessing it as a potential Skyborg system that would be equipped with artificial intelligence and be able to fly autonomously alongside tactical aircraft.

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