After Taiwan sent Beijing into a frenzy by inking a mega-defense deal with the U.S., the island nation has once again rattled the Chinese government by revealing its domestic-built “suicide drones.” Named Jian Hsiang, translated as the “Flying Sword,” it was one among the 80-plus locally manufactured pieces of military equipment displayed by the country’s military at the Taipei Aerospace and Defence Technology Exhibition.
The Flying Sword first made its appearance at a 2017 trade show in Taipei. It is similar to the Harpy UAV manufactured by Israel and has been developed by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science & Technology (NCSIST). Recently, the Air Defense and Missile Command of the Taiwan Air Force confirmed that it will be spending about US$2.54 billion in the next five years to develop the UAV.
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Chi Li-pin, aerospace director of the National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology, explains that the drone does not hold a separate warhead inside it. Instead, the drone itself is the “main munition.” Once the UAV sets a target, it flies in and self-destroys. “[The] anti-radiation UAV can detect and attack radar emitters on enemy vessels, or electromagnetic wave sources in their weapon systems… Their flight range is said to be able to cover radar stations along China’s southeastern coast,” according to Taiwan News. Beijing’s S-400 missile system will come within range of these drones.
In July, the U.S. State Department sanctioned a US$2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan that includes 250 shoulder-launch missiles and 108 tanks. Beijing lashed out at the cooperation, warning that U.S. companies involved in the trade would face sanctions in China. However, the American government remained unfazed by China’s warnings and has encouraged domestic defense companies to help the country build up its military.
Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, said that the U.S. expects the country to increase defense spending. Only by building strong offensive capabilities can it hope to counter China in the event of a military conflict. “These investments by Taiwan are commendable, as is Taiwan’s ongoing commitment to increase the defense budget annually to ensure that its spending is sufficient to provide for its own self-defense needs… And we anticipate that these figures will continue to grow commensurate with the threats Taiwan faces,” Christensen said in a statement (South China Morning Post).
Vehicle for suicide drones
Suicide drones and related technologies are also an area of interest for Beijing. In May this year, China unveiled an armored vehicle capable of firing 12 suicide drones. Developed by Beijing’s Zhongzi Yanjing Auto Co. Ltd., the vehicle is 5.7 meters long.
“It has a max speed of 125kmph and can adapt to the various demands of highly mobile troops. The vehicle can operate in difficult terrains including jungles and mountains… The wheeled vehicle uses what the company calls ‘missile-vehicle integrated technology.’ It carries 12 pneumatic launch tubes that fire drones into the air, which then spread their wings and become operationally controllable,” according to Defense World.
Of the 12 drones mounted on the vehicle, 8 belong to the SULA30 class, which are used for reconnaissance and have the ability to stay in the air for over an hour. The remaining eight will be SULA89 class drones, which can do both reconnaissance and attack. Each SULA89 drone will carry explosives that weigh over 2 kilograms.