With the clone of the XQ-98A Valkyrie drone, China highlights a weakness in US strategy

At the 2021 Zhuhai Air Show, Chinese aircraft manufacturer CASC presented a clone of the American XQ-98A Valkyrie drone, the FH-97 drone, just a few months after it began flight tests for the 'US Air Force.

In a tweet posted on September 29, Acting Under Secretary of the Army Christopher Lowman marveled at the operational superiority the US military will have on the battlefield in the near future when F-35s, drones and missiles cruisers will simultaneously strike targets engaged by US ground troops using long-range precision munitions, all thanks to a constant and real-time exchange of information from all units and the progress of the 'Artificial intelligence.

It obviously refers to the Joint All-Domain doctrine who today represents the backbone of American strategy in the years to come to counterbalance the rise in power of the Chinese armed forces in the Pacific, as well as all the programs related to it, for example the "consumable" combat drone programs piloted by a generic AI developed within the framework of the US Air Force Skyborg program.

But this doctrine can only be truly effective on condition that a strict postulate is respected, namely that the adversary is not endowed with the same capacities for communication, cooperative engagement and autonomous systems, which represent the added value of the model.

However, one can doubt this, observing the drones presented by the Chinese state aircraft manufacturer CASC at the Zhuhai show this year, and in particular the “potentially consumable” stealth combat drone FH-97, which is none other than a clone of the XQ-98A Valkyrie drone from the American company Kratos, and one of the key models of the US Air Force's Skyborg program.

True, the presented FH-97 is only a model. Naturally, this is an imperfect copy of the American model. But clearly, Beijing has no intention of letting Washington and its allies take any technological or doctrinal advance in the years to come, going so far as to reproduce almost identically, and in a particularly short time, key programs to ensure this.

Valkyrie Altuis Drones Gigones e1617710480149 Military planning and plans | Defense Analysis | Combat drones
Kratos' XQ-58A Valkyrie drone is one of 3 models selected by the US Air Force as part of the Skyborg program to design a potentially expendable combat drone

Like the Valkyrie, the FH-97 is a combat drone of the 6 ton range, with an estimated length of 9 meters and a wingspan of 8 meters, using a stealth architecture initiated by the Barracuda developed by EADS for Germany in 2006, and since taken over by Kratos for his Valkyriebut also by the Russian Grom, the Indian CATS Warrior, and more freely by many ongoing programs of type drones Loyal wingman et Remote Carrier.

Unlike the Valkyrie, the FH-97 is powered by two small turbojets, and not a single more powerful one, this probably having to do with the difficulties that Chinese industry still encounters in developing reliable and economical turbojet models. It carries an armament bay for receiving ammunition, missiles and stray ammunition up to 250 kg, and has a frontal electro-optical system for detection and guidance.

Very little information has been disclosed on the control of the machine, and its level of autonomy, but it is useful to remember that the J-16 and the future two-seater J-20 of the People's Liberation Army will be equipped for control and cooperation with combat drones.

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