Vietnam revealed its largest indigenous high-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) this December, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly reports. According to local media reports, the prototype was completed at the beginning of November and will commence test flights over the South China Sea in the summer of 2016.
The prototype is a joint project of Vietnam’s Academy of Science and Industry and the Ministry of Public Security. The new UAV, designated HS-6L, will perform both civilian and military tasks, judging from the aircraft’s design features.
Vietnamese media reports that the unarmed UAV prototype sports a Rotax 914 engine and a 22-meter wingspan. It has a range of up to 4,000 kilometers as well as an endurance of up to 35 hours. It will be equipped with unspecified optical and radar surveillance systems.
IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly notes that the Vietnam may have received design assistance from Belarus, given that the unveiling of the aircraft coincided with the visit of the chairman of the Belarus Academy of Science.
In 2014, Vietnam purchased a number of Grif-K tactical drones from Belarus. The Belorussian UAV has a wingspan of 5.7 meters, a maximum take-off weight of 120 kilograms, and a payload of 25 kilograms.
In 2014 and 2015, Vietnam also ordered Israel-made Orbiter 2 and Orbiter 3 drones for use in the Vietnamese Army’s artillery corps.
Vietnam has been trying to build an indigenous UAV since at least 2008. In May 2013, Hanoi flight tested six drones, all with inferior performance characteristics in comparison to the new HS-6L prototype as The Diplomat reported:
[T]he drones have a weight of 4 kg to 170 kg and wingspans ranging from 1.2 to 5 meters. The smallest of these “can fly at 70 kph [kilometers per hour] within a radius of 2 km and at a maximum altitude of 200 m,” while the biggest one “can fly at 180 kph, within a radius of 100 km and at an elevation of 3,000 meters. It can continuously fly for 6 hours in both daytime and nighttime.”
The unmanned aircraft are equipped with cameras, spectrometers and other devices and will be “used for [the] supervision of environmental natural resources in difficult direct approach territories; observation, communication and seashore rescue; exploration of natural resources, control of forest fire[s], and to follow the situation of national electricity system and transport” (…)
The new HS-6L could be used for surveilling the Chinese naval base at Sanya on China’s Hainan Island and military facilities (e.g., ports and airfields) that China is building in the potentially oil-rich South China Sea.