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China is building a sea-skimming anti-ship drone

Staff Writer |
China is developing a new drone that uses ground effect technology to skim the surface of the ocean, allowing it to fly just eighteen inches off the water.

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The unmanned vehicle could be a challenging opponent for potential adversaries, some of whom would find it difficult to detect, Popular Merchanics reports.

The drone first appeared on Chinese corners of the internet and quickly spread to Russian and western defense blogs. The drone appears to have a set of forward canards and a pair of upward swept wings.

It has an air intake on top instead of the bottom, perhaps to avoid sea spray from being sucked into the engine at very low altitude. It is also painted in blue Chinese Navy camouflage.

Most modern cruise missiles are what are called "sea-skimmers," flying thirty feet or less above the surface of the water in order to avoid detection.

The curvature of the Earth means sea skimming shortens the distance that enemy ship radars can detect it, giving the defender less time to shoot it down.

The new unnamed drone, by comparison, is claimed to fly just 18 inches above the surface of the water. Against typical sea skimmers, a ship radar thirty feet above sea level would detect the incoming missile at 15.4 miles. The same radar would only detect the Chinese drone at 9.48 miles.

A drone flying that close to the ground won't be flying supersonic, and by appearances the UAV has a turbofan engine. Assuming a speed of 600 miles an hour, typical for subsonic anti-ship missiles, an enemy ship would have 59 seconds to react.

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