The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy deployed a new vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing drone on a guided missile destroyer in an exercise in the South China Sea in late February.
It is rare to see a VTOL fixed-wing drone on a Chinese naval vessel.
The drone took off from the helicopter deck of the Lanzhou, a Type 052C destroyer, during the three-day exercise, China Military Online reported on Tuesday, without naming the drone or elaborating on any technical detail.
According to a photo in the report, the drone boasts a triple-fuselage design.
The left and right fuselages each have four propellers: two on top, two on the bottom.
A larger propeller is installed at the rear of the aircraft.
"The eight smaller propellers can provide the lift needed for VTOL, and the larger propeller provides thrust," Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the Global Times on Wednesday after watching the photo.
A VTOL aircraft is very suitable for a vessel as it requires little room for takeoff and landing, Wei said, noting that the new drone has combined the advantage of a rotorcraft and a fixed-wing aircraft.
It uses four simple brackets under the middle fuselage as its landing gear, according to the photo.
Using the helicopter deck in the photo as a reference, Wei said the drone appears to have a wing span of about four meters, allowing it to be stored in helicopter hangar.
Wei expects the drone to carry out reconnaissance and search missions at longer ranges for destroyers and frigates.
The drone could also guide artillery fire from warships and conduct damage assessment during an amphibious landing operation, Wei said.
Chinese military observers noticed the drone shares many similarities to the Sea Cavalry SD-40, a VTOL fixed-wing drone developed by Xiamen Han's Eagle Aviation Technology Co Ltd and displayed in various exhibitions.
The company declined to comment on the drone used by the PLA Navy when reached by the Global Times on Wednesday.