Last week, China held its most-anticipated annual Zhuhai Airshow, known to be the largest airshow and aerospace trade expo in China since the mid-1990s. Of course, the airshow is always something to look forward to as it is the only time it showcases its latest naval and aerospace technologies, but what makes this year’s expo quite an exhibition is the downpour of impressive and promising unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—with the MD-22 particularly standing out.

China showcased its newest hypersonic UAV for the first time, with many speculating that the platform is set to become a testbed platform for the country’s future hypersonic technology. Co-developed by the CAS Institute of Mechanics and the Guangdong Aerodynamic Research Academy (GARA), the MD-22 is a wide-range aircraft that claims to travel at a near-space hypersonic speed of up to Mach 7.

MD22 Photo
(Image source: Twitter)

Below is the description of a promising hypersonic UAV, as translated by EurAsian Times:

“MD-22 wide-area aircraft, about 10.8 meters long, 4.5 meters wide, take-off weight of about 4000 kg, and a maximum load coefficient of about 15 percent. It is a reusable high-sonic technology test platform for adjacent space. It is mainly used for a series of technical verification and in-situ scientific practice of proximity-spaced shuttle aircraft. Test. It can be compatible with different power, suitable for Mach number 0-7, can use autonomous take-off or rocket-assisted launch mode, with a maximum range of 8000 km, and 6 g stable disk overload under medium and high-speed conditions. The ability of mobile flight.”

Aside from the presumption of the MD-22 as a testbed platform, there is no other available information about the drone’s intended role or whether it would be commissioned to be a striker role. Moreover, the final design of the UAV is also subject to change as the system is still under development. While details on the MD-22 specific duties remain unclear, the technology tells us the pace China is currently developing hypersonic technology.

Zhuhai Air Show
(Image source: Twitter)

Defining hypersonic, it is a platform capable of traveling at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5 and up), or around 3,838 miles per hour, and has greater maneuverability over unique altitudes.

Despite being seen as quite behind the hypersonic technology race, the United States is undoubtedly not slacking behind. On the contrary, this year alone, the country has made significant progress in development, with the Pentagon proposing to optimize the innovation of hypersonic weapons to catch up and eventually surpass Russia and China in the race.

US Is Catching Up On The Race

So far, as of June, the US has five hypersonic weapons programs activated across the Air Force, Army, and Navy, and another four programs under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Hypersonic Scramjet
A rendered illustration of a Scramjet hypersonic weapon (Image source: US Air Force/DVIDS)

For the fiscal year 2023, the Arms Control Association reported that the Air Force has already requested $162 million for the research and development of the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system and another $317 million for funding for the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile program.

Meanwhile, the Navy is working on two hypersonic weapons programs, including the Conventional Prompt Strike system (with a funding request of $1.2 billion) and the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare system (with a funding request of $92 million).

And lastly, the Army is primarily focusing on developing a Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon program with a funding of around $1.1 billion. Among the weapon programs, the Army’s system is expected to enter the field sometime next year.

DARPA’s own hypersonic R&D programs are also required big bucks, including Glide Breaker ($18 million), Tactical Boost Glide ($30 million), and MoHAWC ($60 million).

Russia is the first to have developed and used in an actual battlefield its hypersonic weapon, firing ballistic missiles via Kh-47M2 Kinzhal into two locations in Ukraine earlier in the invasion. On the other hand, China deployed its first hypersonic weapon in 2020. The US unveiled that Lockheed Martin successfully tested its design for Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) in March of this year, marking the second successful test following Northrop Grumman’s design last year.

China Flaunts Other Latest Aerospace Techs

Besides the MD-22, China has also flaunted several of its latest, never before seen UAVs at the annual Zhuhai AirShow, including the Wing Loong series attack drones, the CH-7 high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) drone, and the WZ-8 high-altitude high-speed reconnaissance drone, to name a few.

In addition, sophisticated uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs) have captured the attention of military observers in the exhibit, particularly the Haishen 6000 (also called “Poseidon 6000”), which is a 7.6 meter-long UUV that features multiple mine detector sensors and is capable of carrying towed acoustic decoys used for sonar signals to deflect active torpedoes. Another UUV worth mentioning is the EA63, which debuted at the expo, developed by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), that can remotely operate on surface ships and conduct mine-sweep missions.

Global Times reported that Beijing had also displayed its two unmanned coastal defense vessels, namely the L30 Watcher and M75 Protector, which were both manufactured by Yunzhou (known for specializing in unmanned vessels). As its name suggests, the L30 Watcher conducts unmanned security and patrol missions, while the M75 Protector supplies transport and patrolling.