China has apparently developed its own version of Iran’s highly-regarded HESA ‘Shahed 136’ drone, according to a report from the Ukrainian publisher Defense Express. This new drone, called the “Sunflower 200,” has been touted to be of exceptional quality and bears a striking resemblance to the original Iranian drone. This development has come to light after its unveiling at China’s ‘Army-2023’ exhibition, leading to concerns about the proliferation of such advanced drone technology.
The HESA ‘Shahed 136,’ also known as ‘Geran-2’ in Russian military service, is an autonomous pusher-prop drone crafted by Iran’s Shahed Aviation Industries. Its primary function is to operate as a loitering munition, capable of targeting ground-based objectives from a considerable distance. What sets it apart is its deployment in clusters, launched in batches of five or more, strategically overwhelming air defenses and diverting their resources during the attack. The drone made its public debut in December 2021, attracting attention with its distinctive delta-wing shape designed for enhanced flight stability. Moreover, stabilizing rudders placed at the wingtips contribute to improved control during operation.
One of its most striking features is the potent warhead housed in the drone’s nose section, weighing an estimated 66–110 pounds (30–50 kilograms). Weighing around 441 pounds (200 kg) and boasting a wingspan of 8.2 feet (2.5 meters), the ‘Shahed 136’ can achieve speeds exceeding 115 mph (185 kph) and has an impressive range of up to 1,553 miles (2,500 kilometers).
The Chinese rendition of this drone reportedly weighs approximately 386 pounds (175 kilograms) but maintains a comparable payload capacity, dimensions, and operational range. The newly developed drone also boasts a declared fuel capacity of 42 U.S. gallons (160 liters), possibly indicating a resemblance to its predecessor, the ‘Shahed 136.’
This drone’s portability is a key asset, with both the launch frame and drone assembly being easily mountable on various military or commercial vehicles. Launched at a slight upward angle with rocket assistance (RATO), the drone’s propulsion is subsequently taken over by an Iranian-made Mado MD-550 four-cylinder piston engine during loitering. It can be reasonably assumed that the Chinese variant employs a similar launch procedure.
The extent and speed of China’s production of the ‘Sunflower 200’ remain uncertain. Equally unclear is whether these drones are intended solely for China’s military application or if they are destined for export to other countries, particularly the Russian Federation. This development underscores the emergence of multiple potential suppliers of these highly effective loitering munitions, marking a significant shift in the landscape of modern warfare technology.