China’s aggressive development of uncrewed air, ground and underwater vehicles is an increasing threat to Taiwan and the region, analysts at a government-funded think tank said.
Sheu Jyh-shyang (許智翔), a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said that in the past few years, uncrewed ground vehicles (UGVs) and drones have been used increasingly by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
In a research paper published on Jan. 29, Sheu cited Chinese media reports of drones being deployed in counterterrorism drills in China in 2019, and used for the transport of supplies to high altitudes in Tibet in September last year.
Photo: Tu Chu-min, Taipei Times
On Jan. 6, state-controlled China Central Television reported a PLA military exercise that included a number of drones and UGVs, Sheu said.
In that drill, the PLA used a tank-like robot, less than a year after it had commissioned the “Sharp Claw I” UGV, he said.
While the capabilities of China’s UGVs are limited to reconnaissance and light fire support, they would make a difference on the battlefield if the technologies develop further, Sheu said.
Despite limited maneuverability in a complex environment, UGVs can still support troops, he said, adding that Taiwan’s military might need to pay more attention to improving its UGVs’ capabilities.
Taiwan should also be prepared to deal with the threat posed by China’s rapid development of UGV systems, Sheu said.
Meanwhile, Ou Si-fu (歐錫富), another research fellow at the institute, said that China might be using uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs) for spying in regional waters.
In a paper published on Jan. 27, Ou said that on Dec. 20 last year, an Indonesian fisher caught an uncrewed underwater glider in waters off Selayar Island in South Sulawesi, which was identified by experts as a Chinese “Sea Wing” drone.
That gave rise to suspicions that China was spying in the strategic waterway between the South China Sea and Australia, Ou wrote in the paper published on the institute’s Web site.
On Jan. 13, Indonesian maritime security authorities spotted a Chinese research vessel, the Xiang Yang Hong 03, in Indonesian waters, with its tracking system turned off, Ou said, citing news reports.
The appearance of the research vessel and the UUV led to speculations that China was conducting underwater mapping in the area.
Since mapping of the underwater environment is required for smooth submarine operations, the data collected by the UUVs would likely enable China’s submarines to increase their activities in waterways along the Maritime Silk Road, Ou said.
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