China Emerges as New Force in Drone Warfare

AP looks at China’s development and expanding use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for both military and civilian use, noting that China is situating itself to be a major player in the global UAV industry:

Chinese aerospace firms have developed dozens of drones, known also as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Many have appeared at air shows and military parades, including some that bear an uncanny resemblance to the Predator, Global Hawk and Reaper models used with deadly effect by the U.S. Air Force and CIA. Analysts say that although China still trails the U.S. and Israel, the industry leaders, its technology is maturing rapidly and on the cusp of widespread use for surveillance and combat strikes.

[...]“China is following the precedent set by the U.S. The thinking is that, `If the U.S. can do it, so can we. They’re a big country with security interests and so are we’,” said Siemon Wezeman, a senior fellow at the arms transfers program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden, or SIPRI..

[...]Further developments could see China competing with world’s two major drone producers, the United States and Israel, for markets in close ally Pakistan, Myanmar and other developing nations. Customers might even include Russia, which is the world’s No. 2 arms exporter but has had little success making UAVs.

Defense News covers the U.S. military’s anxiety, knowledge, and possible misunderstanding of China’s rapidly developing drone programs, which seem to have “emerged out of a fog”:

The Pentagon’s Defense Science Board (DSB) issued a “wakeup call” over Chinese UAV development. The report, “The Role of Autonomy in DoD Systems,” issued in October, said the military significance of China’s move into unmanned systems is “alarming” and China has a “great deal of technology, seemingly unlimited resources and clearly is leveraging all available information on Western unmanned systems development.” This might allow China to “match or outpace U.S. spending on unmanned systems, rapidly close the technology gaps and become a formidable global competitor in unmanned systems.”Due to transparency and language hurdles, many of China’s UAV programs remain unidentified. Chinese UAV manufacturers are not shy from showing off their equipment at aviation shows and on company websites. Once again due to language issues, China’s UAVs developments are widely misunderstood in the West.

While no international standards for the military use of drones currently exist, the UN Human Rights Commission will be debating a proposed moratorium on the use and development of drones at the end of the month.

For more details on China’s drone development, see CDT coverage of the considered use of drones to target a drug lord in Myanmar, who was later captured and sentenced to death. Also see CDT coverage of maritime disputes in the South China and East China Seas, where the usage of drones is expected to increase.