Game of Drones

by Bill Gertz,  |  published on March 27, 2013


China’s military is expanding its unmanned aerial vehicle forces with a new Predator-like armed drone and a new unmanned combat aircraft amid growing tensions with neighbors in Asia, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

New unarmed drone deployments include the recent stationing of reconnaissance and ocean surveillance drones in Northeast Asia near Japan and the Senkaku islands and along China’s southern coast. Drones also are planned for the South China Sea where China has been encroaching on international waters and bullying nations of that region in asserting control over international waters, said officials familiar with intelligence reports.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles are emerging as critical enablers for PLA long range precision strike operations,” said Mark Stokes, a former military intelligence official now with the Project 2049 Institute. “A general operational PLA requirement appears to be persistent surveillance of fixed and moving targets out to 3,000 kilometers of Chinese shores.”

Japan, meanwhile, is developing and purchasing military drone capabilities to counter what it regards as Chinese aggression and Beijing’s growing military capabilities as Tokyo’s dispute with China over the Senkaku islands intensifies, the officials said.

After Chinese aircraft intruded into Japanese airspace over the Senkakus undetected late last year, Tokyo stepped up efforts to seek drone capabilities. The efforts include building an indigenous missile-tracking drone and high-altitude U.S. drones.

So far, unlike Beijing, Tokyo asserts its drone will be unarmed, the officials said.

“China has started deploying UAVs for reconnaissance and oceanic surveillance purposes in the vicinity of disputed maritime territories, such as the Senkaku Islands,” said one military source.

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