The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force recently carried out manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) exercise involving a GJ-2 armed reconnaissance drone and two J-16 fighter jets.
State-owned China Central Television (CCTV) published a report on the training that took place at an undisclosed location. China has never revealed about such exercises to the general public before.
Li Yang, head of a PLA Air Force drone group, said in the report that drones have integrated into the PLA's combat system and achieved some good results.
Future warfare is a confrontation of cognition, and so the ideas and cognition of the people who operate these unmanned weapons and equipment are the deciding factor to victory or defeat on the battlefield, Li said.
During the training, the GJ-2 took off from an airfield, with the J-16s waiting behind it. The drone then fired missiles at some targets, while the fighter jets' role was not elaborated on in the report.
While there are many differences between GJ-2 and J-16, including top speed, maneuverability, range and endurance, they can integrate with and complement each other in many ways, analysts said.
“The slower drone could take off first, and as it approaches the target zone, the faster fighter jets could then take off to catch up and form a formation for a short period above the target zone and carry out missions,” Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Another possibility is that the fighter jet arrives at the target zone first using its speed advantage, wins air superiority and launches a first wave of attack, before leaving the target zone to be cleaned and controlled by the slower but longer-enduring drone; visa versa, the drone could also arrive first to conduct reconnaissance, and summon the fighter jets when necessary, Fu said.
In all scenarios, the drone and fighter jets are connected by data links that allow them to communicate, distribute missions and transfer data, the expert said.
"A few J-16s and a few GJ-2s operating together can carry out operational level strike missions or conduct non-stop strike missions on key tactical targets," he said.