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Chinese military working to develop a flying/underwater drone hybrid

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China is reportedly looking to gain an advantage over its military adversaries through the development of a ‘transformer’ drone – one which is equally capable of cruising through the skies or gliding beneath the waves.

Late last year a Chinese publication called the Aerodynamic Missile Journal detailed the project (essential reading for you Mandarin-speaking military enthusiasts out there). The proposed name for this drone is 水空介质跨越航行器, which translates to the wonderfully literal: Water Air Medium Leaping Vehicle.

Long-range UAVs and UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles) are already in use by Chinese and American forces, however a military drone which is capable of performing at a high-level in both of these realms is still elusive. A team of students and faculty at the PLA Air Force Engineering University are tasked with figuring out a solution to this problem and have received a generous grant from the Chinese government to assist them in their efforts.

Transformer drones have the advantages of possessing the speed and range of a UAV alongside the stealth enabled by a UUV, which can dive underwater. At present, development on the project is still in its early stages and no working model has yet been produced. The impetus behind pouring resources into tis ambitious project is that the new transformer drone will have the speed and range of a UAV as well as the stealth advantages of a UUV.

Are there other hybrid drone models out there?

Below are several existing examples of hybrid/transformer drones. We should note that a craft purposed purely for military endeavors would like to be more robust than the following UAVs.

The EagleRay transitioning from underwater to the air. Image credit: Matthew Bryant

The EagleRay

This drone was developed by researchers at the University of North Carolina. Funding for this UAV derives from US aerospace and defense firm, Teledyne. To date it has completed 12 sky/air missions.

Key Facts

Dimensions: 5ft (1.5m) and is 4.6ft (1.4m) long. Weight: 12.6 lb (5.7kg). Motor: Electric

Description: Project started in 2014. The drone is capable of transitioning repeatedly between sky and sea. Is intended to eventually be deployed as a wildlife tracker.

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