Taiwan Seeks Military Drone Fleet After Observing Ukrainian Success Against Russia

TOPSHOT - A picture taken on March 14, 2017 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul shows a dr
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Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said last weekend her government is carefully studying the success of Ukrainian drone warfare against invading Russian forces, and will make a substantial investment to speed up drone development so Taiwan enjoys similar advantages against a potential Chinese invasion.

“Regardless of whether it is for military or civilian use, it is highly necessary for us to speed up our development of drones as it will be an important matter for the next generation,” Tsai said last Sunday while visiting the site of a proposed research facility for artificial intelligence and drone technology.

Tsai outlined a plan for several local aerospace and robotics manufacturers to work with the state-funded National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology on militarized drones. The institute has produced two surveillance and two attack drone prototypes so far, but none of the designs has been commissioned for production.


Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (AFP/Sam Yeh)

Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said last week that a working group to study Ukrainian tactics against Russia has been established, with input from several friendly foreign governments. 

“We will not make remarks rashly, but through internal discussions which are important, to get results that are helpful for building armaments and preparing for war,” Chiu said.

Chinese analysts doubted Taiwan could surpass China’s formidable edge in both quality and quantity of drones, but Taiwan’s drone boosters argued the island has defensive geographic advantages that could be amplified by well-designed targeting and attack drones, even if China’s fleet remains larger and more advanced.

The RAND Corporation published a white paper last year suggesting Taiwan could benefit from a “mesh” of several thousand targeting drones with overlapping fields of view, linked together with a militarized version of 5G wireless networking. Such a system would help Taiwan’s missiles seek out high-value invading targets and strike at their most vulnerable locations. 

The RAND proposal required no new technologies, and the drones would be small and inexpensive, overwhelming the Chinese invasion force with so many targets that shooting them all down would be impossible.

Another strategy considered by Taiwan involves “suicide drones,” specially designed to seek out and destroy Chinese radar systems. The suicide drone concept would work around Taiwan’s lack of expertise by designing missile release systems, frequently cited by analysts as a major obstacle to the island’s drone ambitions.

Taiwanese media last year suggested creating a fleet of interceptor drones that could be dispatched when China conducts its frequent excursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). This “gray warfare” conducted by China is considered very taxing on Taiwan’s smaller air force, so responding with drones would take some of the pressure off Taiwanese pilots — especially if China begins using drones for its incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ.


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