Taiwan unveils new combat and reconnaissance drones as Chinese threat grows

Taichung, Taiwan

A Taiwanese The state-run military weapons developer unveiled five new types of indigenous military drones Tuesday as the self-governing island looks to expand its asymmetric warfare capabilities against China growing military threat.

The CNN team was among the reporters invited to the Chung Shan National Institute of Science and Technology, where the Taiwanese weapons designer demonstrated eight types of locally developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including five models that were shown to the public for the first time. .

The new drones come in different sizes and are equipped with either combat or surveillance capabilities, said Eric Chi, director of the institute’s aviation systems research department, adding that the devices have been designed for use by various branches of the Taiwanese military.

“In response to new global war trends, our armed forces are actively building up asymmetric warfare capabilities,” Chi said.

He added that the institution is working to develop core technologies “to fully implement the national defense self-sufficiency policy.”

The new weapons have been unveiled as the Chinese communist leadership is increasingly asserting its territorial claims to Taiwan – an island democracy of 23.5 million that it has never controlled – and clearly refusing to rule out the use of force to control it.

On Monday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged to strengthen national security and turn the military into “great steel wall” in his first rubber stamp speech to Parliament after he was confirmed as President for an unprecedented third term.

China is also increasingly exerting military pressure on Taiwan, regularly sending planes and warships across the Taiwan Strait’s median line.

For decades, the line served as an unofficial but largely respected boundary of control for both sides until Beijing launched large-scale military exercises in response to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island last year.

Taiwan is heavily dependent on American weapons to maintain its defense capabilities against an increasingly powerful China and has acquired many expensive goods.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration approved a possible arms sale to Taiwan worth about $619 million, including missiles for its F-16 fighter jets.

But the island democracy is also increasingly focusing on accelerating the development of indigenous weapons to boost its military capabilities, especially cheaper mobile weapon systems that could play an important role in deterring any Chinese incursion.

Taiwan announced last October that it would increase its annual defense spending by 13.9% this year. The conscription period for Taiwanese men eligible for military service will also be extended from four months to a year starting in 2024.

During a press tour of the institute’s aviation research center on Tuesday, reporters were shown a rare close-up of various combat and reconnaissance drones developed by Taiwanese experts.

One of the new reconnaissance drones is the Albatross II UAV, which is capable of conducting long periods of observation and tracking of naval ships over the sea using artificial intelligence.

It is capable of staying in the air continuously for 16 hours and has a maximum range of more than 300 kilometers (186 miles), the institute told reporters.

Another new surveillance drone unveiled to reporters is the Cardinal III, a portable UAV that can take off and land vertically and is designed to monitor activity along the coastline, the institute said.

The key combat drone presented to reporters is the Loitering Munitions UAV, which can be piloted by a single soldier. It is equipped with a warhead and is capable of hitting people or vehicles from the sky.

The institute said it was a model of the American Switchblade 300 drone, which was widely used by the Ukrainian military to target enemy radar systems while defending against a Russian invasion.

Other types of new combat drones are also designed to use GPS satellite systems and image tracking technologies to carry out attacks.

The institute added that several indigenous military drones already in use by the Taiwanese military were also on display, including a Long Endurance medium-altitude UAV that is capable of long-range surveillance and early warning from air and sea.

During the trip, reporters were told that details about the capabilities of the drones would not be released because the Taiwanese government considers them confidential.

Chi, director of the institute, said the new drones are being tested by the Taiwanese military and are likely to enter mass production later this year.