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China unveils its first armed drone helicopter aimed at close-range unmanned combat

China’s growing defense industry has quickly made a name for itself, especially in drones. Government produced CH-3 and CH-4 combat drones are already used worldwide, including by the Iraqi and Nigerian governments. Now NORINCO, one of the country’s largest state-owned corporations, is getting into the the act with a drone of its own.

Dubbed the Sky Saker H300, this helicopter drone sports electro-optical and infrared cameras and laser-targeted designators. It also has two missile launch tubes mounted on either side of the fuselage, and a total weight of about 200 kilograms when fully loaded.

While the H300 can fire missiles on its own, NORINCO is also pitching it as a way to assist other platforms in precision strikes. For example, computer-guided missiles from bombers or howitzer shells could receive mid-course corrections from the Sky Saker, ensuring these munitions hit their targets.

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According to reports, the Sky Saker H300 is China’s first helicopter-based UCAV, short for “Unmanned Combat Arial Vehicle.” NORINCO already offers a plane-like UCAV also known as the Sky Saker, which it began selling in 2014.

Helicopter UCAVs have distinct advantages over standard UCAVs, though. Like the helicopters they’re based on, take off and landing of the drone is possible vertically, negating the need for some type of runway space. There are some disadvantages to this configuration, though, such as slower flight speeds and range limitations.

Given these attributes, it’s probably not out of the question to speculate the Sky Saker H300 would find more use in close-range combat, rather than longer range missions where mission control might be hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away. However, at least initially, we’re not aware of any commercial deployments or government contracts. Right now the H300 is being shown off as part of a larger defense exhibition that is taking place in Dubai, and for the time being, it’ll likely remain relegated to the show floor.