back to article China aims to pair J-20 stealth fighter with 'loyal wingman' battle drone

China may be aiming to match US efforts to operate pilotless aircraft alongside crewed fighter jets, by creating a so-called "loyal wingman" drone to fly with the nation's J-20 supersonic stealth fighter. According to reports in The South China Morning Post, Beijing is developing a cutting-edge combat drone called the FH-97A …

  1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

    First to field

    The first to field such a drone will be the country most willing to take risks, not necessarily the country with the most advanced AI. A lot of capable but inexpensive systems can overwhelm low numbers of hyper expensive higher capable systems.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: First to field

      It stands to reason that the country with the less capable manned fighters would be first to go with swarms of unmanned fighters, and the country with the most capable manned fighters and most entrenched bureaucracy of ex fighter jocks in command roles would hold onto manned fighters and marginalize unmanned aircraft into a support role as long as possible.

      I think it is quite possible China will have a more capable Air Force than the US in a decade because they will be far quicker to adopt unmanned aircraft swarms in a primary role rather than being subservient to manned fighters. China will be investing the bulk of their resources into unmanned fighters while the US is spending billions and eventually trillions developing successors to the F22 and F35, which by the time they fly in any numbers will be as obsolete as cavalry in WW II.

      1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

        Re: First to field

        Calvary was shown to be obsolete in the early days of World War 1.

        1. wolfetone Silver badge

          Re: First to field

          Yet a fleet of outdated Fairey Swordfish sank the Bismark, which was the most advanced warship of the time.

          1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

            Re: First to field

            Don't forget the raid on Taranto!

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: First to field

              who bombed Toronto?!


              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: First to field

                "who bombed Toronto?!"

                The Quebecois! :-)

          2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            They did not sink the Bismarck.

            They brought the torpedoes that crippled the Bismarck's steering.

            With the Bismarck going around in circles, the allied forces closed in and sunk her with cannon fire, the traditional way.

            But of course, if the Swordfish hadn't crippled her, the allied forces would likely have had a much harder time of it.

        2. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

          Re: First to field


          If it were obsolete, there would not have been successful cavalry charges in World War Two (US on the Philippines, and Italians against the Soviets). They were very rare, but they occurred.

          (And even the famous 'Polish cavalry charging Panzers' was actually a successful Polish cavalry charge against a German Infantry battalion, that was then 're-written' by the Germans, focusing on the Polish retreat when some German armoured cars turned up)

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: First to field

            It's also worth remembering the the German military was very "unmechanised" in the main. They deliberately went about making sure newsreels etc only ever showed mechanized equipment while much of the infantry and supplies actually travelled on foot or in horse-drawn carts.

            1. mattaw2001

              Re: First to field

              Have an updoot from me - it's funny that the Nazis mostly used horses to get about. The whole mechanized infantry films were propaganda. (Not that some units were mechanized, they were, but on average it was horsedrawn wagons.)

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: First to field

          well, it was still a very effective (and the only truly mobile) force used in Eastern Europe, particularly around 1917 - 1921.

  2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

    Shrinking the Compute Package

    I dunno how long it'll take to develop viable useful/sacrificial drone jet companion craft, but they probably will not use true AI, because (a) true AI is a very, very long-term project (it's been in development for the last 60 years), and (b) the hardware needed to run it will currently-and-into-the-"foreseeable"-future not fit into a jet fighter.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Re: Shrinking the Compute Package

      Your point is correct and also irrelevant. "True" AI is not really required; the various air forces probably just need a plane-portable expert system which can outperform less "intelligent" adversaries such as guided missiles.

      1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

        Re: Shrinking the Compute Package

        "True" AI is not really required

        ... which is why I wrote, "but they probably will not use true AI". The phrase carries the implication, as I intended, that I believe some sort of companion craft will be successfully developed.

  3. Ashto5 Bronze badge

    Last paragraph is the best


    Scrap a development because they want to focus on development.


    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Scrap a development because...

      I guess that you have never worked on a project that ended up being scrapped because it was:-

      - going down a box canyon


      - other developments elsewhere made the current plan redundant

      or other reasons?

      It takes a brave manager to admit that their baby was a POS given other factors and call a halt. Most managers would carry on regardless and look for an exit (aka another job) before the blatant waste of £££ came to light leaving the poor sods dong the work to carry the can.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Scrap a development because...

        Good point - The issue with the 'loyal wingman' drone concept is that it seems a good idea at first but in practice, less so. First if you're talking accompanying 6th gen fighters then they need to be as stealthy as the mother-craft or it gives away the manned ship. There's an issue with autonomy and who is responsible for compliance (and legal responsibility) with the rules of engagement (pilot? s/w manufacturer? integrator? etc) - China is probably less bothered about this than Western forces.

        If you're looking at ISTAR, why not just use a drone optimised for that? If you want to get red forces to light up their tracking maybe that's a use. As a decoy, its useless as its bloody expensive with with limited evasion abilities and SAM's usually have more than one missile ready. If you look at how the F35 should work, loiter with stealth detecting away and then launching BLOS missiles its not clear how the loyal wingman fits in...

        1. Phones Sheridan Silver badge

          Re: Scrap a development because...

          “ China is probably less bothered about this than Western forces.”

          And that’s probably why China would win in any such confrontation. China would fill the skies with drones set to explode when they come into contact with anything in their path while the west would be carrying out their risk assessment.

          Hovering minefields, now there’s an idea worth patenting!

  4. james 68

    Pew pew

    The Royal Air Force announcement that Mosquito had been squashed saw the Royal Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) state it had made "substantial progress" in understanding and harnessing a range of future uncrewed capabilities, and that it would "aggressively pursue" the RAF's commitment to integrate advanced uncrewed capabilities "with more immediate beneficial value" into the force mix.

    Isn't this just a long winded way of saying they're going down to the pub to make paper airplanes?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Well that's the worst thing that's happened to me today, discovering that someone has coined the word "attritable". Truly the American military has, to misquote Oppenheimer, "become Death, the destroyer of words."

  6. steviebuk Silver badge


    "According to reports in The South China Morning Post"

    Yeah, no point reading CCP propaganda.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Hmm

      May as not read any news then. Even the BBC has a massive bias on certain subjects, and I'm not taking domestic politics.

    2. fxkeh

      Re: Hmm

      Fwiw, the South China Morning Post is Hong Kong based and nominally independent of the government (as much as it can be these days)

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Hmm

        But unfortunately isn't anymore as sadly, the CCP have ruined Hong Kong.

  7. User McUser

    Was I the only person who read the headline and immediately thought of the little companion upgrade units in games like Gradius or Life Force?

    1. Phones Sheridan Silver badge

      I’m hoping for the power up droids you get in the likes of R Type!

  8. Brian 3

    Am I the only one who heard the headline and thought of these things on the same lines as the exploding helmets for Chinese infantry? They're not for shooting down the enemy. They're more for preventing defection of valuable equipment?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like