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When visibility is reduced, it is difficult for the helicopter crew to locate the target, especially at long distances. The use of a UAV makes it possible to identify the target, freeing the crew from visual constraints, and to fire beyond the field of view (BVR – beyond visual range). This increases the range of missiles.

China has recently reported that it had conducted tests to bring a helicopter and a UAV together. Tests were conducted to combine a UAV and a helicopter for target designation, making the two platforms communicate so that the drone could designate a target that would then be engaged by the helicopter.

According to Chinese sources, the tests proved conclusive and all targets were hit, despite the difficult climatic context. But the meteorological environment is indeed one of the elements demonstrating the interest of such a combination.  

One of the challenges of this UAV-helicopter collaboration lies in the exchange of data between the two platforms and their communication. Similarly, in terms of human resources, the PLA has stepped up exchanges and cooperation between helicopter pilots and UAV operators, so that they can share their know-how, operational constraints and working methods.

In order to take the exercise scenario further, ground-to-air defence systems were used and simulated firings were carried out. The helicopter was able to avoid them while conducting strikes on the targets, which were always designated by the drones, according to aircosmosinternational.com.

The technology has already been deployed before. The European missile manufacturer MBDA already presented its Lynkeus project in March 2019, where a Novadem NX70 UAV was used to designate targets for its MMP missile. By combining these two technologies, the ambition is to be able to complete in-depth observation and in particular facilitate target designation. While the MMP missile has an autonomous navigation capability, it can be engaged on a target that is not visible to the shooter, but whose coordinates are known.