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China’s WZ-8 High-Altitude Drone: The Ultimate Surveillance Tool for Indo-Pacific

Following a sequence of significant revelations, leaked Pentagon records on Discord propose that China is preparing to deploy an advanced high-altitude surveillance drone, known as the ‘WZ-8,’ that could travel at three times the speed of sound. The disclosure, which is allegedly based on a confidential document from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and was published by The Washington Post, could not be verified by EurAsian Times. If the allegations are true, they could greatly enhance Chinese surveillance capabilities, allowing them to gather real-time mapping data to plan strategies and carry out missile attacks in future conflicts.

According to the report, satellite images from August 9 show two WZ-8 drones at an airbase in eastern China, about 350 miles inland from Shanghai. The assessment further claims that China’s Eastern Theater Command, which is responsible for enforcing Beijing’s claims of sovereignty over Taiwan, had “almost certainly” established its first unmanned aerial vehicle unit at the base. The facility has been expanded in recent years, with at least 18 new structures built since August 2020, according to an examination of satellite images accessible to the public on Google Earth and given to The Post by Planet Labs.

New roads leading into the hills south of the runway, some of which are nearly 130 feet wide, were built starting in late February 2022. In addition to this new drone, leaked documents suggest that China is developing technology that could enable it to target American warships and military installations in the region, including those near Taiwan. Other documents revealed Chinese espionage activities and military modernization, such as intelligence indicating additional Chinese spy balloons. This is especially significant given Beijing’s recent scrutiny over its spying activities. In February of this year, the United States destroyed what was suspected to be a Chinese spy balloon flying over strategic American military installations, triggering a diplomatic row between the two adversaries and raising tensions to an all-time high.

After the spy balloon incident between the US and China, reports in the media suggested that China had a special and advanced unit that used high-altitude balloons for spying purposes. Some reports even claimed that Beijing was using these balloons to spy. Along with these significant revelations for China’s opponents, a Pentagon document disclosed that China had conducted a test of its DF-27 Hypersonic missile in February 2023. The missile flew for 12 minutes over 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers) and had a high chance of penetrating American ballistic missile defense systems. As modern military tactics increasingly rely on drone warfare, the information about China’s new drone is particularly interesting. The WZ-8 program was discovered by The Washington Post in a collection of photos of classified documents that were allegedly leaked on Discord, a popular group chat platform among gamers, by a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. China unveiled the WZ-8 drones in 2019, flying two jet-black aircraft past Tiananmen Square to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China’s founding. At the time, few observers believed that the drones were fully operational. Two years later, in 2021, China showcased its WZ-8 drone at an air show alongside other cutting-edge drones such as the GJ-11 prototype and the popular WZ-7. The WZ-8 is a brand-new near-space aircraft that combines aviation and aeronautic technologies, designed for high-altitude and high-speed reconnaissance missions. As previously reported by Global Times, it can obtain high-resolution images of targets even in highly defended enemy territory, providing useful intelligence for battle damage assessments.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s assessment, accessed by The Washington Post, also included information on the possible flight paths of the drone and the twin-engine H6-M Badger bomber that launched it. The warplane would take off from its base and fly to a location near China’s east coast before deploying the stealth drone. The drone could then enter Taiwanese or South Korean airspace at an altitude of 100,000 feet and a speed three times that of sound. The document does not mention the propulsion method, but it does state that the “engine features are primarily associated with rocket fuel.” The planned routes are shown on a map labeled “not necessarily authoritative,” but it proposes possible approaches. The leaked document indicates that the drone’s “electro-optical” cameras and sensors could collect intelligence in several areas, including the main island of Taiwan and the western part of South Korea, including Seoul. Military experts believe that the drone could be used against the US and its military assets and bases in the Pacific if a conflict between the two adversaries occurred in the region. According to Chi Li-pin, director of the aeronautical systems research section at the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, “It’s a weapon for anti-access and area denial.” This is significant because Beijing already has a highly sophisticated A2/AD system along its shores, which is believed to provide the country with a significant advantage when fighting a war. Military experts have cautioned that if China invades Taiwan, it could lead to a war with the US. Although the WZ-8 aircraft currently does not appear to be capable of launching attacks, Chi noted that changes could be made in the future to enable it to do so. “It is difficult to detect and intercept,” he said.

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