China unveils first practical drone swarm tech, ‘to be used in amphibious landing missions’

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A GJ-11 stealth attack drone makes its parade debut during the National Day parade held in Beijing on October 1, 2019. Photo: Fan Lingzhi/GT

China has grasped the technology to practically use a drone swarm, a concept featuring the simultaneous and coordinated operation of a large number of drones that could prove to be very difficult to defend against, a Chinese arms firm recently demonstrated in tests. Capable of deployment from the ground, sea and air, this new tool could play a vital role in challenging missions including amphibious landing operations, analysts said on Sunday.

The China Academy of Electronics and Information Technology under the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation recently conducted tests on a fixed-wing drone swarm system, Ordnance Industry Science Technology, a Xi’an-based defense magazine, reported on Saturday, citing a statement the academy released over the past week which did not reveal the system’s designation.

During the tests, drones were released from truck-based, 48-unit launchers and from airborne helicopters. The drones were rapidly and simultaneously deployed while the transport platforms were on the move, and the system can launch as many as 200 drones in one go, the report said.

After being released, the drones switched between different formations and conducted reconnaissance and attack missions on ground targets, the report said, noting that the drones look similar to China’s domestically made CH-901, which is about 1.2 meters long, has a top speed of 150 kilometers an hour and a combat radius of 15 kilometers. Also known as a loitering munition, this kind of drone functions just like a normal drone in reconnaissance missions, but can turn itself into a cruise missile and launch suicide attacks when it receives the order.

A drone swarm is a concept in which a large number of drones released at short intervals share information and conduct attacks and defense missions in coordination and outnumber the enemy. Simply deploying a large number of drones but not having them interconnected is technically not a real drone swarm, analysts said.

The test is done in a simulated combat scenario, and this marks that the drone swarm system has become the first in China that is practical for use, and it will not be long before the drone swarm can enter military service, the magazine said.

Dozens or even hundreds of this kind of armed reconnaissance drones in swarms can conduct reconnaissance over large areas and launch coordinated attacks on valuable targets, which could be particularly useful in amphibious landing missions, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The enemy would set up beachhead positions with many mobile and fixed targets, but they will not escape an attack by drone swarms, which can be equipped with different types of warheads, including high explosive and anti-tank rounds against different targets including infantry, bunkers and armored vehicles, Wei said.

Drone swarms can also be released from warships like amphibious landing ships and warplanes like bombers in addition to ground vehicles and helicopters, as the drones could then accurately, automatically and intelligently identify and attack maritime and coastal targets, Wei said.

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