China Developing A Massive Drone Army, Says Pentagon: 40,000 Drones In The Making

By @diplomatist10 on
A Phantom drone by DJI company, equipped with a camera, flies during the 4th Intergalactic Meeting of Phantom's Pilots (MIPP) in an open secure area in the Bois de Boulogne, western Paris, March 16, 2014. Reuters/Charles Platiau

According to a Pentagon report, China’s military is raising a drone army of nearly 42,000 land-based and sea-based unmanned weapons and sensors as part of its massive military buildup.  The annual report by Pentagon on the People’s Liberation Army, released on May 8, has details of China's passion for the armed and unarmed drone aircraft and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles for use in intelligence gathering as well as combat missions.

Strike Capability

“The acquisition and development of longer-range UAVs will increase China’s ability to conduct long-range reconnaissance and strike operations,” the report said. Over the years, China has been steadily raising its ability to use drones with “plans to produce upwards of 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems, worth about $10.5 billion, between 2014 and 2023.”

The four UAVs under development include the Xianglong, Yilong, Sky Saber, and Lijian. Bulk of the drones is configured to fire precision-strike weapons, the report noted. It added that Lijian, which first flew on Nov. 21, 2013 was China’s first stealth UAV. The Pentagon report noted that drone buildup should not be seen in isolation. Rather, it is a part of a long term military buildup that also saw China producing many lethal, multi-warhead missiles, submarines and ships.

In May 2014, Forecast International also made a projection of the global UAV market, in which it stated that China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation will lead the world in UAV production as it may produce $5.76 billion worth of UAVs by 2023.

US Drones

The Pentagon report is likely to cause some consternation in the U.S, as Pentagon has been operating with just 7,000 aerial drones, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The 7,000 drones of the U.S are in addition a few hundreds of underwater UAVs.

China's ultra-high speed maneuvering strike vehicle is also mentioned in the report. “China is working on a range of technologies to counter U.S. and other countries’ ballistic missile defense systems, including maneuverable reentry vehicles, multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles, decoys, jamming, and thermal shielding,” the report stated.

It further added that both the United States and China acknowledged the Chinese having tested a hypersonic glide vehicle in 2014. Pentagon has now confirmed the existence of Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle by China that can travel at the edge of space at a speed 10 times that of sound. The Wu-14 is capable of delivering nuclear weapons, breaching U.S. missile defenses and was tested thrice in 2014.

Rick Fisher, a China military affairs analyst, said, “By far it is the most detailed PLA report in terms of explaining near to medium term threat vectors but does not venture enough into the far term, the later 2020s and beyond. Interestingly, the report also highlights the threat faced by Taiwan. The Pentagon report also mentioned other advanced capabilities that China has attained such as anti-satellite weapons, high-earth orbit missiles capable of striking hitting strategic satellites and advanced cyber warfare capabilities.

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