Chinese manufacturer tests advanced military drone: report

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A Chinese drone manufacturer is testing reconnaissance and strike drones designed for use in cities, according to a South China Morning Post report on Thursday.

Why it matters: This is likely the first made-in-China unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and one of the few in the world that can carry out attacks and reconnaissance missions in densely populated urban environments, signaling that China is catching up with the US and Israel in defense drone technology.

Details: The Tianyi quadcopter is designed by Tianjin Zhongwei Aerospace Data System Technology, an aerospace corporation based in northeastern China that also makes radar systems for government and civilian use, according to the report which cites an article in Modern Weaponry, a Chinese defense magazine.

  • It is capable of navigating “asymmetric combat, counter-terrorism and special forces [operations] and street battles” and it can carry out close-range strikes, the Modern Weaponry report said.
  • The multi-rotor drone weighs 38 kilograms (around 84 pounds) and has a maximum flight altitude of 600 meters (around 0.37 miles), can carry two shells and strike up to a kilometer (0.6 miles) away, according to the report (in Chinese).

Context: Little is known about specific models and applications for defense drones. The People’s Liberation Army showcased its progress in drone technology during China’s 70th Anniversary parade held in Beijing during the Oct. 1 to 7 national holiday, but the most advanced drones are shrouded in secrecy.

  • Military UAVs is another area in which the US and China are sparring. In March 2018, US President Trump was reportedly trying to relax export restrictions on military drones, to compete with China and Israel.
  • Israel’s ongoing conflicts within its borders has fostered its leadership in defense drone technology. A 2019 report by the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry found that drones account for 10% of Israel’s total exports of military equipment, which in 2018 totaled $7.5 billion.
  • China has been stepping up its exports of military drones to the Middle East and Africa, where the US and Israeli military equipment is a harder sell because of political tensions. Beijing placed export restrictions on military UAVs the next year, citing “national security concerns.”