Home » Air » Report: China developing advanced drone fleet

Report: China developing advanced drone fleet

by Bryant Jordan on March 13, 2013

The U.S. may own the skies now when it comes to drones, but China is fast developing strategic and tactical unmanned aerial vehicles capable of supporting ground, sea and air forces, and also subbing for satellite communications in the event they are taken out.

That’s the report from the Project 2049 Institute, a five-year-old think tank devoted to researching and tracking social, political, military and technological trends in the Asian Pacific.

In current numbers and capabilities, the Chinese fleet – estimated by the institute to be about 280 strong in 2011 – is no more than a quarter of the size of the U.S fleet. Published reports have indicated there are now at least 800 large drones – Predators, Reapers and the high-altitude Global Hawks among them – in operation around the world. That does not even count the smaller drones like the Raven that troops are able to launch by hand.

The Chinese began developing drones in the 1950s with some help from the Soviet Union. The United States was also working on UAVs at the time, primarily for reconnaissance, according to the UAV research history provided by the institute,

Drone aircraft generally lost out to manned platforms and satellites when it came to funding, according to “Air Force UAVs: The Secret History,” published in 2010 by the Mitchell Institute.

Since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. pumped more money and attention into UAVs.

But the Chinese not only are working to beef up the numbers but also the variety, backed up by a military and academic partnership that – not surprisingly – is a great deal closer than those in the West. China’s UAV research and development community has developed more than 50 designs, the institute found, of which the People’s Liberation Army funding what it considers the best.

As in the U.S., the Chinese are greatly interested in drones capable of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, precision strike and electronic warfare missions and data relay – communications.

The UAVs are spread throughout China’s army, navy and air force, though the PLA General Staff maintains its own UAVs for joint operations, according to the institute. China’s Second Artillery Corps – its strategic missile force – also appears to have high-altitude, long endurance UAV assets, while those assigned to army, navy and air force units are for tactical ops and training.

“In a crisis situation, selected UAV-equipped units may be apportioned to a Joint Campaign Command,” the institute says. “UAV data most likely would be fused with space-based ISR and ground-based over the horizon radar surveillance data within a [Joint command].”

There have been numerous Chinese military studies dealing with UAVs as communications relay platforms, according to the institute.

“In particular, Chinese researchers note that UAVs could provide a critical link between land-based command and control facilities and anti-ship missiles engaged in long range over-the-horizon attacks,” the think tank states. “One study also posited that high altitude UAVs equipped with data link payloads could substitute for communications satellites in the event of enemy anti-satellite attacks.”

Share |

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance March 13, 2013 at 12:22 am

Well more China paranoia. From what ive read looks like there invested in unmanned spy drones but lack jet powered attack drone we have for now.


Davis March 13, 2013 at 12:34 am

Key word is "for now". China has been able to catch up with the US in terms of military capabilities and hardware (not to be confused with tactics and experience) faster than many military leaders and analyst thought possible. We may be the country with the most advanced and powerful drones but we shouldn't take that for granted and let our guard down and let them catch up. Our military and IC should definitely take notice of China's growing drone fleet and prepare because we've all seen the damage drones are capable of in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Also when dealing with China, "paranoia" isn't the word you should use, "vigilance" is better.


oblat March 13, 2013 at 1:21 am

They are already two generations ahead of us in strategy and tactics which is why we have never won a war or proxy war against them even when they were agrarian.

The great irony is that China has the big advantage that it doesn't have a socialist defense sector like we do. We can expect that as the exponential growth continues they will appear suddenly with new technologies of which we have no counter and no hope of countering.


greg March 13, 2013 at 9:09 am

Personally I think China over-extended themselves too fast. They did build up quickly, but now they have ghost cities that people can't afford to live in. They are in a paradox right now. They are going to have more old people then they can support at some point.

Also I don't think China has been very innovative. They are great copiers right now, but they don't seem to design much. I again personally think this has to do with their culture. I don't think we will ever see a great many ideas come out of china unless the people are free.

With all that said I am still worried about all the espionage. It also seems like a proxy war is heating up in Korea again.


Drone March 13, 2013 at 9:37 am

If you had to look a bit further back, the Chinese were amongst the greatest innovators in history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_inve

The West might be enjoying the upper hand at the moment but this is no time for complacency.

Duke March 13, 2013 at 9:44 am

"They are already two generations ahead of us in strategy and tactics"

How do you figure?


blight_ March 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Why not seventy-kajillion generations ahead?

Sun Tzu's Art of War, gain D20 strategy rolls.

IronV March 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm

You don't know your present or your history. The only major modern campaign where we've ever faced them was Korea. Despite their overwhelming numbers, we pushed them back across the 38th parallel and could have kept going. Without nukes…


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Well, if the US military were so darn good, why didn't they push them back all the way to Yalu and beyond.

gaylord_gaylordson March 18, 2013 at 3:44 pm



Jeff March 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm

"From what ive read looks like there invested in unmanned spy drones but lack jet powered attack drone we have for now."

Lance, where did you get this info? Did you learn it from your uncle's neighbor who heard it from a friend's cousin who got it from her ex who gathered it from his drinking buddy's nephew who got it from his sister's co-worker who gleaned it from her dad's barber who was tipped off by his shrink's husband who learned it from an online comment, which was posted by you? Or are you just trying to bullshit us?


K Hudgens March 14, 2013 at 3:41 am
shawn1999 March 14, 2013 at 8:05 am

Shaped correctly, wood will still fly. And its much cheaper than metal, making it easier to replace, not to mention it the fact that its a poor conductor, so it won't be reflecting radio signals or heat very well….easily replaced (just have to reproduce the interior circuitry for the package its carrying….) if you are right, sounds like they've just bypassed all our detection equipment.


Ron March 13, 2013 at 9:39 am

When China reach the moon then I'll take notice about their technological capabilities, till then I would'nt worry about it.


UASGuy March 15, 2013 at 10:13 am

Umm, do you realize China is the only country other than Russia who can put a man into space? We can't even do that since the shuttles were retired. They even have their own space station. Their technological capabities, while still years behind ours, are still enough to make countries like India and Japan spend lots of money on US weapons so they can defend themselves against the strengthening Chinese military.


UASGuy March 15, 2013 at 10:14 am

Oops. Capabilites. Where's the spell check when you need it?


dennisbuller March 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Yes, they will spend billions going to the moon.
Then they may bring back some rocks!! Oh boy!
China is spending money on these huge state boondoggles for the sake of pride.
They really should be spending our money better:)


orly? March 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

But but but Europe's the threat right?

We'll never have to worry about a Pacific war correct?


LeeRetArmy March 13, 2013 at 10:50 am

Part of the reason we have never won a war against them is we have never fought them without restraint. In Korea they used virtually no tactics it was mass and charge which if we would have been allowed by the politicians to stem the flow from China we would not have the problems with NK that we have today. Not quite the same with Vietnam but very close there was more Russian influence in that war than Chinese. The problem I am most concerned with in regards to China is technology. We are WAY to reliant on the Chinese for parts which if not properly inspected or tested could be a huge problem a small RF chip with a simple executable i.e shut down or simply burn out a circuit and any piece of equipment with that board is done. This is very simple to do. We have always seemed to play the short game where China has played the long. A very close watch needs to be kept on the Dragon.


@MikeNiner5 March 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm



Che chang March 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I thaught IS supplies heron drones to CH?


LtKitty March 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Ugh, white hub caps are like sooo last century.


LtKitty March 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm

On closer inspection it looks like white is on the tire, not the hub cap. Woops.


majr0d March 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Whitewalls that take up most of the side of a tire are called "snowballs" and are very 1950's which was the last century.


Jeff M March 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm

China needs to develop an advanced truck fleet, heh.


PrometheusGoneWild March 16, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I don't think we can compete with China's white wall technology!!!


aaothead March 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm

If we don't stop our electronic leaks of course they can catch up with us, they just steal it. Low start up costs that way.


Kole March 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I'm glad the Navy's DRFM jammers on EA-18Gs still kick ass.


Jacob March 13, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Is there a reason why drones seem to always be painted white?


@MikeNiner5 March 17, 2013 at 3:07 pm

so they can be seen better in parades and airshows…those that are actively deployed are normally painted gray


stephn russell March 13, 2013 at 9:14 pm

If have ship acess, can do overflights over Hawaii or VA alone
Scary if have updated spy tech for Live Feed to Hqs.


oblat March 14, 2013 at 5:46 am

You have to love the "we only lost because we chose to" excuse. When did our military become so lame ?


blight_ March 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

"But the Chinese not only are working to beef up the numbers but also the variety, backed up by a military and academic partnership that – not surprisingly – is a great deal closer than those in the West. China’s UAV research and development community has developed more than 50 designs, the institute found, of which the People’s Liberation Army funding what it considers the best."

Bear in mind this is the research structure used to fund basic research in the US. Pour money into NIH and earmark extramural research at academic institutions. It's been a good way to push discovery along.

One can only hope their defense establishment takes a page from the free market and overpromises and under-delivers at a premium.


Obama March 15, 2013 at 3:06 am

The age of America is ending


@MikeNiner5 March 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm

that's what you and your marxist comrades have been praying for…keep praying


@Merciful_Wrath December 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm

thanks to you Obama. Also, China will just be a remake of the west by all the shit they steal from us. They will crash at some point, China is historically rife with rebellion, we can only assume we don't HEAR much of it due to chinese control of their press, internet, anything that that further pisses off the population which has higher standards than the usual propaganda


Phono March 15, 2013 at 6:15 am

I guess the truck is still more expensive and complex than the drone it carries … but china is developing fast and will pose a serious competitor in the future.
Especially when it comes to drones the field is (in comperassant) plainly levelled. Closing up to the US may not be as difficult as it seems – especially if I remember the chart that has been shown along with the article here about the chinese x37b


Anthony March 15, 2013 at 5:14 pm

China is a country that prefers men than women.It has been reported that when girls are born they are drowned or killed in some way.Not only is their population growing older but without women they can not reproduce. Men can not reproduce with each other so what happens when there are no women to produce more Chinese? What kind of life is that?


@MikeNiner5 March 17, 2013 at 3:14 pm

they've got plenty of people to fill their military…and when the time is right, they will invade their neighbors and take the women they want to replenish


Anthony March 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm

After being without women for a while they may lose interest in them and then become the first all homosexual country in the world.Then what???And as for invading other countries and taking their people,I doubt it.Their population now is over 1 billion and they can't feed all of them


Marcellus Hambrick March 15, 2013 at 9:55 pm
Marcellus Hambrick March 15, 2013 at 11:57 pm
Tata March 17, 2013 at 6:56 am

Anthony u r really not up to date, the last 10 years, especially nowdays girls are more preferred than boys in China. Mainly due to huge pressure to have boys as parent need to buy house to their son otherwise no parent will allow their daughter to one not owning house. Its china culture thing, the first thing a girl would ask to a man before they go into relationship or marriage.


ONTIME March 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm

A Yellow Sea encounter is not all that unrealistic, Japan Defense and the PRC"s newly untried weapons are in direct opposition for major oil deposits and shipping lanes. The Uncredentialed is making his way to Israel, red flags fly and I suspect he needs excuses for tightening his agenda here at home. His job is in jeopardy and he may be creating a insurance policy with our allies to put a stop to his ouster…America Beware.


Tata March 20, 2013 at 1:04 am

Anthony, if ur last comment is to reply my comment then i want to tell you that i’m n expat working n living in China for the last6 years. Besides my comment is just an information for share but ur reply really surprise me n show how ‘educated’ you are!


Anthony March 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Since you are an "expat" working and living in China stay there.You deserve what ever you get from there, but it's not my choice of living under communism where the government runs your every day life and you have no say so!!!!!!


Tata March 20, 2013 at 1:05 am
@Merciful_Wrath December 1, 2013 at 3:54 pm

How I read it: China copying other country's drones


OTTO April 27, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Its a copy of yours [USA] anyway, they stole the plans years ago.
Message to USA make *fake* plans with unit issues so that they will copy it faults and all :-)


LtKitty March 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm

JTW, I couln't have said it any better if I tried. Great post.


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 1:25 am


You are completely wrong on the facts.

The Boxer Rebellion was started by civilians against the corrupt and impotent rulers who had rendered the country too weak to resist foreign exploitations.

China and the US have never been officially at war, but then the word "officially" is meaningless when the military of two countries face off on the battlefield without a formal declaration of war.

The US military has had three military confrontations with Chinese communists: (1) in China's Civil War on the side of the widely unpopular, corrupt and incompetent KMT Nationalists, (2) in the Korean War on the side of the corrupt, incompetent South Korean government, and (3) in the Vietnam War on the side of the corrupt, murderous South Vietnamese government.

We all know what how those military confrontations ended.


Lance March 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Think your being too paranoid about China. and believe too much hype they let us read. I think drones are over rated real aircraft will be key in any war.


Drone March 13, 2013 at 3:32 pm

The Nazis had some of the most advanced aircraft in the world in service towards the end of World War 2, but didn't have the experieced pilots to make good use of them due to attrition.

Unmanned aircraft have altered the dynamics of aerial warfare, and one would be a fool to belittle their influence.


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 1:51 am

Oh yes! I forgot – the other side is always corrupt! HA!


shawn1999 March 14, 2013 at 8:01 am

Oh, I forgot to add the part in which the respective countries of the "Palestinians" even refused to take their own people back after Israel rightly appropriated those lands under the Geneva & Genocide Conventions. And, to this day, they receive better treatment than their own countries had have given them previously. Despite how "oppressed" they are.


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 11:48 am

You must have a PhD in Clown Science from a top 10 school.

Nice clowning and creating / imaginative delusional composition skills. You have must worked hard.


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 10:43 am

Not to mention, that when I studied military history of the area, all artillery surveyors reported that almost the entire area was abandoned, and that not even Bedouins were present in the close of the 19th Century!! So it looks increasingly like the Palestinians came back to Palestine because the immigrant Jews offered them jobs! Hows that for gratitude!!


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 11:45 am

The US has demonstrated an "uncanny" tendency to help corrupt regimes and overthrow competent, honest and patriotic leaders.

But then, maybe it's not uncanny; maybe it's because corrupt regimes offer little resistance and competition to US interests, while competent, honest and patriotic leaders (Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin, Gaddhafi, Deng Xiao Ping and all his successors) resist US influence and attempts at exploitation and thievery.


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 11:49 am

Pardon me, meant to say CREATIVE … delusional composition skills.


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm

You "studied military history of the area"?

Who do you think you are kidding. The boneheads on this board might buy it, but to those who actually know the real facts, you are making a "freaking you know what" of yourself.


Alex March 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm

If you studied Military history, I 'm Phd.of the same. because that what you wrote is exactly same ignorant claim, as well as those that the Holocaust(during the IIWW) or the genocide of the Jews never happened , and that's all that Zionist propaganda


blight_ March 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm


Reading Twain's Innocents Abroad right now. I'll have to figure out how to verify the other primary sources next.

There's also this gem:

In 1920, the League of Nations' Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine stated that there were hardly 700,000 people living in Palestine:
There are now in the whole of Palestine hardly 700,000 people, a population much less than that of the province of Gallilee alone in the time of Christ. Of these 235,000 live in the larger towns, 465,000 in the smaller towns and villages. Four-fifths of the whole population are Moslems. A small proportion of these are Bedouin Arabs; the remainder, although they speak Arabic and are termed Arabs, are largely of mixed race. Some 77,000 of the population are Christians, in large majority belonging to the Orthodox Church, and speaking Arabic. The minority are members of the Latin or of the Uniate Greek Catholic Church, or–a small number–are Protestants. The Jewish element of the population numbers 76,000. Almost all have entered Palestine during the last 40 years. Prior to 1850 there were in the country only a handful of Jews. In the following 30 years a few hundreds came to Palestine. Most of them were animated by religious motives; they came to pray and to die in the Holy Land, and to be buried in its soil. After the persecutions in Russia forty years ago, the movement of the Jews to Palestine assumed larger proportions. Jewish agricultural colonies were founded. They developed the culture of oranges and gave importance to the Jaffa orange trade. They cultivated the vine, and manufactured and exported wine. They drained swamps. They planted eucalyptus trees. They practised, with modern methods, all the processes of agriculture. There are at the present time 64 of these settlements, large and small, with a population of some 15,000.
By 1948, the population had risen to 1,900,000, of whom 68% were Arabs, and 32% were Jews (UNSCOP report, including bedouin).


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Well we all choose to believe what we want to believe and no convincing from outside sources right? I choose to believe my war college professor, and my Dad saw the holocaust when he flew relief supplies into the death camps, so NO BODY on this earth can convince me THAT didn't happen!


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Our politically correct President Truman fired the General and stopped them . Besides they are supposed to be our buddies. Yep! That's why we still do business with them to this day. :)


orly? March 14, 2013 at 1:39 pm

They believe what they choose to believe, and they bet their soul on their beliefs.

Let them.


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Quote – "I choose to believe my war college professor"

And if professors at other colleges say something different, which professor(s) do you choose to believe, and why?

Consider your college "education" a total failure if all you can do is to recite what your professors have said.


Alex March 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm

There is not such thing like political correct USA president(except J.F.K..because of his political correctness all he got was a bullet in the head)


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm

HaHa. Is that something your "war college professor" taught in class, or did you make it up yourself?


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm

So I'm supposed to make up history out of thin air? I haven't heard different from ANY of my history professors, let alone those at Leavenworth. If I hear different, I would listen – but then I would expect them to back it up with pictures, survey data and every thing you would expect from an alternate study.


IronV March 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I think your post speaks well to your monumental ignorance.


crackedlenses March 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Actually, you are supposed to go watch YouTube videos and peruse websites by quacks who think Bush hired space aliens from Mars to make bin Laden blow up the Twin Towers. /sarc/

This guy is starting more and more like "passingby".


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm

JCitizen, you are already making things up out of thin air.


blight_ March 14, 2013 at 4:59 pm

From http://www.archives.gov.il/ArchiveGov_Eng/Publica

Would be the Israeli government's translation of what is a sort of census.

From http://www.cojs.org/jh.php?id=Memoranda&conte

Would be some interesting studies from waybackwhen about the settlement of the holy land in three memoranda. The second one, under ch 5 (turkish rule) is probably the most contentious.

Memoranda 1 suggests that during Roman and Byzantine rule, that the population of the Holy Land was probably around 4M, buoyed by emigration from the collapsing Western Roman Empire.

Memoranda 2 suggests a Jewish community that had already begun to return home; amusingly with help by the Ottomans who were working on resettling Reconquista expellees, Jews included.


crackedlenses March 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

I would argue that our both Obama and Clinton are both very politically correct (with Clinton being the more pragmatic of the two).


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Actually Jason smith is reasonably accurate on the facts. What part of his post is wrong?


IronV March 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Jason is not reasonably accurate. Jason's propositions, like yours are simply preposterous. Ignorant drivel driven by a very shallow, indeed infantile agenda. Neither Jason or you is informed enough to bother engaging. Go be a troll somewhere else.


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 3:48 pm

As expected, you have nothing more than BS claims and accusations, just like the US government. HaHa.


Restore Palestine March 14, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Am I supposed to believe you have the slightest clue what the people of those countries think? HaHa


Prodozul March 14, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Yes that's why there are so many Venezuelans in Miami because they're just so thrilled with the way their country was being run that they decided to come on over to the US!



Roger March 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Spies will always be stealing secrets. It been going on for over 2000 years and will never quit.
When children are next to combatants that are shooting they become unwilling targets. Picture this. When was the last time someone firing at Israel apologized for killing children? My guess is never. The idea of a humane war is a contraction in terms.


yesjb March 15, 2013 at 7:40 pm

"Restore Palestine"
Thanks, but it's already been restored!


JCitizen March 14, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Thanks for your thoughtful responses; some people would criticize using Wikipedia as a source, but not me. At least you are bringing sane discussion to the table.


Restore Palestine March 15, 2013 at 1:49 am

Good sarcasm on yourself, but very lame on the subject being discussed. You might want to think about it. It will help you become a better student at writing sarcasms


@MikeNiner5 March 17, 2013 at 3:09 pm

whoever down-thumbed you should have their patriot cards taken away…i got you with one thumb up brother


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: