Determined to kill or capture a murderous Mekong River drug lord, China’s security forces considered a tactic they’d never tried before: calling a drone strike on his remote hideaway deep in the hills of Myanmar.
The attack didn’t happen – the man was later captured and brought to China for trial – but the fact that authorities were considering such an option cast new light on China’s unmanned aerial vehicle program, which has been quietly percolating for years and now appears to be moving into overdrive.
Chinese aerospace firms have developed dozens of drones, known also as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Many have appeared at air shows and military parades, including some that bear an uncanny resemblance to the Predator, Global Hawk and Reaper models used with deadly effect by the U.S. Air Force and CIA. Analysts say that although China still trails the U.S. and Israel, the industry leaders, its technology is maturing rapidly and on the cusp of widespread use for surveillance and combat strikes.
“My sense is that China is moving into large-scale deployments of UAVs,” said Ian Easton, co-author of a recent report on Chinese drones for the Project 2049 Institute security think tank.
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