China is developing drones to spy on Taiwan, a study from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission indicates.
“When fully integrated into the force structure, these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) will improve the PLA’s [People’s Liberation Army] ability to assess US and Taiwan military force posture and intent and to employ long-range weapons systems,” the study says.
Written by policy analyst Kimberly Hsu and titled China’s Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Industry, the study was prepared for the US Congress.
According to the study, Beijing employs UAVs in a wide range of missions, though the extent to which it does so and its level of overall proficiency and integration are unclear.
“The PLA’s focus appears to be on employing UAVs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and military communication relay, but likely it is developing and operating UAVs for electronic warfare and lethal missions as well,” the study says.
It says that China’s UAV industry has recently made advances in armed UAVs and unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) development, including those with stealth technology.
“Shorter-range UAVs could perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on fixed and mobile targets on Taiwan and in the Taiwan Strait,” the study says.
“Depending on their basing and range, some of these UAVs also may conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance on ships at sea in portions of the East and South China Seas,” the study concludes.
Long-range UAVs could conduct long-duration surveillance at extended distances from China and enable over-the-horizon targeting by PLA Navy long-range anti-ship cruise missiles and the Second Artillery’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles. They could be particularly useful for detecting, locating, and tracking high-value fixed and mobile targets — such as US Navy ships — throughout the Western Pacific, the study says.
China’s UAV industry is also developing medium-altitude, long-endurance UAVs and high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs.
“When operational, these advanced UAVs could conduct persistent broad-area surveillance capabilities at extended ranges and early-warning during wartime,” the study says.
In addition to fulfilling domestic market demand from the PLA and other domestic customers, Chinese companies appear to be positioning themselves to become key suppliers of UAVs in the global market.
“China’s unmanned aerial vehicle industry is diversifying and expanding,” the study says.
It says that surging domestic and international market demand for UAVs, from both military and civilian customers, will continue to buoy the growth of the Chinese industry.
“Chinese defense firms do not face the same export restrictions as top UAV-exporting countries, such as the United States and Israel,” the study says. “As a result, China could become a key UAV proliferator, particularly to developing countries.”