According to local media reports, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) on Oct. 22 entered Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone and Taiwan’s military deployed air defense missile systems to monitor the aircraft.
This is the first time that a PLA UAV has made in incursion into the zone.
In addition to crossing the Taiwan Strait median line with fighter jets, the PLA has also begun to frequently dispatch marine reconnaissance aircraft, airborne early warning and control aircraft, and — crucially — strategic weaponry-class UAVs into Taiwan’s air defense identification zones.
If this abnormal state of affairs gradually becomes normalized, Taiwan’s military would need to decide whether to react to each incursion by a UAV by scrambling fighter aircraft.
Former chief of general staff admiral Lee Hsi-ming (李喜明) said in an interview that since defense resources are limited, Taiwan should avoid getting into a war of attrition with China.
It would not matter how many additional F-16Vs Taiwan purchased, it would be worn into the ground, Lee said.
UAVs can be used for ground attacks and assassinations, and a number of drone attacks worldwide have in the past few years caught the attention of observers.
On Sept. 14 last year, 10 UAVs armed with explosives penetrated the sophisticated air defense systems of two state-run Saudi Arabian oil refineries, causing damage to euipment running into hundreds of millions of US dollars and the loss of incalculable oil export revenue.
Saudi oil exports were disrupted by 5.7 million barrels per day, global oil prices spiked and the attack significantly exacerbated existing political and military tensions in the Middle East.
On Aug. 4, 2018, while Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was delivering a speech at a military event in Caracas, a hostile group flew two UAVs loaded with explosives close to the stage and detonated them. Maduro and his wife survived, but were shaken.
It was the first known attempt to use a UAV to assassinate a head of state, and the incident left many around the world stunned.
In December 2018, a drone incident occurred at London’s Gatwick Airport. Following multiple reports of drone sightings close to its runways, the airport was forced to close for more than 24 hours.
The incident caused the diversion or cancellation of about 1,000 flights and affected about 140,000 passengers.
High-performance drones are more stealthy, flexible and cost-effective than conventional military hardware and are destined to play a vital role in future conflicts.
In particular, military UAVs armed with short, medium and long-range missiles, or equipped with biological weapons, would be difficult to prevent and defeat.
In the past few years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been throwing resources into the research and development of drone technology.
The PLA has fielded aerial reconnaissance drones such as the Chengdu Pterodactyl I and Aisheng ASN-205 series, the Hongdu GJ-11 “Sharp Sword” stealth attack UAV or the IAI Harpy loitering munition, imported from Israel.
All of these UAVs could be used to attack important military installations in Taiwan.
As we enter the age of sophisticated artificial intelligence drones, in addition to drawing lessons from drone attacks around the world, the Taiwan’s national security and defense infrastructure must research and develop ways to defend against this potent new security threat.
Yao Chung-yuan is an adjunct professor and former deputy director of the Ministry of National Defense’s strategic planning department.
Translated by Edward Jones
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