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Chinese Use of UAS Likely to Increase

Proliferation in Armed Forces, Security Authorities and Export Customers

Against a background of continuing exports and increased use of UAS in the country’s own armed forces and organs of public security, debate is heating up regarding China’s intentions regarding further employment of platforms such as the CAIHONG and WING LOONG, already in service with the armed forces of Iraq, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia as well as China.

Doctrine in China differs radically from the US, for example, regarding the use of unmanned systems. However, there are increasing signs that their increased use is under consideration for applications ranging from ISR and border surveillance through crowd control and security event monitoring. UAS such as the BZK-005 and GONGJI-1 already serve with naval and air force units as well as the Ministry of Public Security and the Coast Guard under the aegis of the State Oceanic Administration. Indeed, the Coast Guard seems set to adopt the M75 High Speed Patrol Vessel, an unmanned surface vessel, in the near future.

Areas of unrest such as Xinjiang and Tibet have caused headaches for internal security authorities and the greater use of UAS for surveillance and monitoring missions there seems likely: in Xinjiang they have been in constant use since at least 2010. Furthermore, the GONGJI-1 has been used by the air force in counterterrorism exercises under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation since 2014.

Accurate information on Chinese military and security developments is notoriously difficult to come by and the rumour machine works overtime as a result. Unconfirmed reports continue to circulate of a flight test of a swarm of at least 1,000 UAS in February this year. What is certain, however, from analysis of the academic and scientific press, is that the intellectual community behind design, development and use of UAS in China is intent on leveraging artificial intelligence to their goals, developing ‘swarm’ tactics for their use and proving operational concepts for their greater use in asymmetric warfare – a domain the Chinese characterise as “intelligentised.”


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