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China crafting a suicide drone army for 21st century battlefield

File photo of a military drone (Photo: IANS)

China is hard at work for the modern-day battlefield. It is preparing expendable attack drones or flying artillery shells for modern day warfare for which it is buying Kamikaze drones.

News Agency ANI says that China is looking at two types of suicide drones. It quotes Michael Peck's article in The National Interest that US ally Israel initially taught China about suicide drones. China got its first taste of suicide drones when Israel sold it the Harpy system in the 1990s, to the displeasure of the then US government.

The article cites an announcement on a Chinese military procurement website which says that the Chinese military wants two types of suicide drones. The technical specifications of the drones and the number to be purchased are not mentioned. Peck says in his article that drone manufacturers in China have products that are likely to satisfy the demands of the Chinese army.

In 2018, China Aerospace unveiled the CH-901, with specifications at approximately 4 feet in length, 20 pounds of weight, 150 km per hour speed, 15 km range and an endurance of two hours. The larger WS-43 is a 500-pound weapon with a range of 60 km and an endurance of 30 minutes.

In military parlance, these are called "loitering munitions" as these weapons seek to bridge the gap between artillery shells and drones like the US's Reaper and Predator. The latter are big and expensive unmanned aircraft.

Loitering munitions have a propeller, wings, a warhead, and a camera. They orbit an area, scanning it with cameras to identify targets and transmit those to the operator. The operator identifies a target and gives instructions to the drone, which then dives on the target.

The munitions are versatile and can be carried in a backpack. A soldier can use this weapon while confronting an enemy on a hill slope. The soldier takes the Switchblade from his backpack and destroys the target.

It can even be flown into an identified part of a building through a window to keep civilian casualties low and to protect the building from extensive damage.

The National Interest article describes Israel's Harpy as a much larger weapon. Probably the world's first suicide drone, the 300-pound Harpy has a range of up to 250 miles and an endurance of two hours. But unlike a missile, it can stalk an area for hours, waiting for an unwary operator to switch on a radar before it autonomously flies toward the target.

With China ambitiously and aggressively pursuing military interests in its neighbourhood and even further away, countries across the world will have to take into account the new warfare systems that China is developing.

Drones can be hard to tackle, as was observed in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict last year, which completely turned around the outcome of the war.

The National Interest sounds out a dire warning—with China exporting its arms prolifically around the world, its drones may even reach "hotspots such as Africa and the Middle East".