China’s AR-500CJ Shipborne VTOL UAS Takes Shape

AR-500CJ has been developed for China's navy.
Credit: AVIC

SINGAPORE—AVIC says it has completed the first flight of the AR-500CJ uncrewed aircraft system (UAS), which has been designed specifically for China’s naval vessels. 

The state-owned manufacturer claims to have flown the vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft at its facility in Poyang, Jiangxi province, to test the platform’s basic flight-handling capabilities. 

The project to develop a shipborne UAS for both military and commercial purposes began in 2017. In December 2020, the AR-500BJ variant flew for the first time and completed shipborne launch and recovery tests in July 2022, according to AVIC. 

Compared to the AR-500BJ, which only has basic frame and avionic housing, the AR-500CJ has a more streamlined fuselage with radar cross section signature consideration in mind. Painted in green primer, the UAS did not carry any electro-optic turret payload during the test flight. 

AVIC says it will continue follow-on test flights with the aim of certification in 2023.

Reports have suggested that the UAS has been to designed to have a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 500 kg (1,100 lb.), carry a payload of 80 kg, offer endurance of five hours and reach a maximum speed of 90 kt. 

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) currently deploys CW-20 and CSC-005 light VTOL UAS on its vessels. These have recently been used to conduct sorties around Taiwan’s far-flung islands of Kinmen and Dongyin. With MTOW of less than 100 kg (220 lb.) these drones have lower endurance and lack the ability to fly in inclement weather across open seas. If deployed, the AR-500CJ could potentially provide the PLAN or its carrier group with over-the-horizon surveillance and targeting capability, a feature currently lacking without a true airborne early warning platform.

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.