China’s Ultimate Combat UAV, Tengden TB-001

The TB-001, nicknamed the “Twin-Tailed Scorpion”, is operated by the People’s Liberation Army.

China is emerging as a leading country in drones. The TB-001, nicknamed the “Twin-Tailed Scorpion”, is operated by the People’s Liberation Army. This is a medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) designed by Sichuan Tengden, was first unveiled in September 2017. Recently leaked images show China’s TB-001 carrying a full range of bombs and air-to-surface missiles, showing a potential threat that Unmanned Combat Aircraft may pose on the battlefield.

The TB-001 UAV uses a twin-boom design similar to that of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter. It has a pair of turbocharged-piston engines, each driving a three-bladed propeller on either side of the central fuselage, underneath a straight high-mounted wing. It has a range of about 6,000-8,000 kilometers and a maximum flight time of 35 hours.

The photo of the drone was shared over multiple social media and Twitter accounts, which showed the drone carrying twelve AGM ordnance – five each on each wing and two air-to-surface missiles on launcher racks on the underside. In theory, the TB-001 has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of over 3,000 kg and a service ceiling of 8,000 m.

TB-001 has a higher flight altitude than the effective interception range of the short-range surface-to-air missiles, improving the operational safety of the UCAV. This design combines the tops of the two vertical tails to create a flat tail by extending two tail support sections backward on the wing, each joining a vertical tail. A flat tail, a vertical tail, and a tail brace together form a structure.

An electro-optical tracking system is located directly ahead of the ventral missile launchers. As a non-stealth UCAV with a heavy weapon payload, it will act as a ‘Reconnaissance Strike’ UAV, providing ground support in situations where enemy airpower and anti-air batteries are either degraded or heavily engaged by friendly forces. Combining its own electro-optical tracking system along with other friendly stealth drones, fighter jets, and ground assets, the TB-001 can be called in to release its payload and fly back.

The TB-001 drone can fire the 20 kg AR-2 air-to-ground missiles to destroy light vehicles, enemy personnel on the ground, and other targets. To destroy heavy armored targets and fortifications, Chinese developers have also introduced the 80 kg AR-4 air-to-ground missiles. The AR-4 has a range of up to 20 kilometers and can be launched from a height of 7000 meters, which is far superior to the Hellfire air-to-ground missile of the United States.

Overall, the TB-001 seems to be a very potential UCAV in a campaign in Taiwan, hitting ground targets. In August 2021, the TB-001 was twice spotted in the East China Sea by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. In the first encounter, the TB-001 flew over the East China Sea unaccompanied, and in the second encounter it flew through the Miyako Strait alongside two Shaanxi Y-9 aircraft.

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