Emphasis on asymmetric warfare pushes Taiwanese drone companies to raise the bar

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By Sean Lin, CNA Editor

From battlefields in Ukraine to offshore military outposts in Taiwan, drones have become synonymous with 21st-century warfare, and their stealth, maneuverability and relatively low cost suggest they could play an even greater role in the future. ‘coming.

Ukraine has demonstrated its effectiveness in asymmetric warfare by halting the advances of larger Russian forces, deploying Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones and US-donated Switchblade suicide drones to attack targets and gain intelligence.

This is a lesson that has not been lost on Taiwan, itself threatened by a larger neighbor and engaged in a defense strategy centered on asymmetric warfare.

At the inauguration of a state-run drone research and development (R&D) center in Chiayi County last month, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) pledged to support the drone research to enhance the country’s asymmetric combat capabilities.

But it is domestic drone producers, keen to upgrade the first generation of locally made drones that Taiwan currently has, that could offer the quickest boost to Taiwan’s defenses.

JCTech

One such manufacturer is JC Tech, located in Taipei’s Neihu Technology Park, which began developing drones in 2018 when it partnered with two other companies on a project to help the Coast Guard build a fleet of single-rotor drones.

JC Tech President Robert Cheng (鄭志誠) said his company has now built and tested prototypes of a suicide drone called Flyingfish, modeled after American-made Switchblades deployed in Ukraine and dubbed the “Taiwanese Switchblade”.

According to Cheng, JC Tech plans to sign its first contract for the product with a Southeast Asian country next month and hopes to one day supply the Flyingfish to the Taiwanese military.

The new drone comes in three sizes, with the mid-range Flyingfish 200 offering a payload of 500 grams, or roughly the equivalent of 10 grenades, he said.

Made of a plastic-like material, the Flyingfish 200 drone is 115 centimeters long but weighs only 2.2 kilograms when fully loaded, making it ideal for soldiers to carry into battle, and it can target tanks, ships or personnel within 10 kilometers with the help of built-in GPS, AI and a camera, Cheng said.

Once it identifies its target, it swoops down and crashes into it, detonating the explosives, he said.

Costing less than $3,000, the Flyingfish 200 is priced well below cruise missiles or other combat drones, making it cost-effective to deploy in large numbers in urban or naval warfare, he said. declared.

“When the enemy approaches [Taiwan’s] coastal waters, Flyingfish drones will prove to be a formidable weapon for asymmetric combat because they are so easy to operate and can be used in large numbers,” Cheng said.

Meanwhile, the airline GEOSAT, which began developing drones in 2008, has collaborated with the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) – Taiwan’s state-run weapons developer and manufacturer – on the Albatross II drone.

The Albatros II is an updated version of the first generation Albatros already used by the Taiwanese military.

The original Albatross delivered big in early August when it filmed a confrontation between Taiwan’s Ma Kong missile destroyer and a People’s Liberation Army Ma’anshan frigate during Chinese live-fire military exercises around Taiwan. organized in response to a visit by United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. .

But with drone technology advancing rapidly, Taiwan’s military felt the need to upgrade its Albatross drones, a task it assigned to NCSIST, GEOSAT CEO Lo Cheng-fang (羅正方) said. ).

Lo believed that because drones could play a bigger role in future military clashes between Taiwan and China, Taiwan should adopt the “porcupine” strategy of supplementing its missile defense network with unmanned combat aerial vehicles. (UCAV).

A UCAV like the Albatross II would do, he said.

Capable of both surveillance and combat duties, the Albatross II has a longer range than the first generation Albatross drones (250 km to 150 km), as well as improved flight endurance, better communications and a larger payload, Lo said.

The Albatross II also has a longer communication range and can transfer data via microwave or satellite transmission, which would be particularly useful if China were to block Taiwan as it could transmit data in real time over enemy movements, he said.

Another major improvement is that it is equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar, allowing it to survey over a wider range with less interference from limited light or poor weather conditions. , according to Lo.

GEOSAT CEO believes Albatross II, which is compatible with locally developed Sky Sword air-to-air missiles and 2.75-inch rockets, could outperform Bayraktar TB2 drones, which became famous for sinking the cruiser Russian Moskva in Russia-Ukraine. war.

He said the new NCSIST and GEOSAT drone has a wider wingspan, higher output motor and higher torque propellers than the Turkish drone.

Lo did not say when the Albatross II drones might enter service, but said that with testing going as planned, the drones should go into mass production next year.

Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲), an analyst at the National Defense and Security Research Institute, said Taiwan’s drone upgrades would have military benefits.

Suicide drones, in particular, can be put to good use when targeting smaller PLA ships during amphibious warfare, and military drones can be used in place of radar stations if the latter are destroyed to hold command centers informed of what is happening on the front lines. of fights.

Teng Yun drones, for example, which operate at an altitude of 6,000 meters or more and will receive their own upgrade in 2024, can conduct effective surveillance within a 300 km radius of Taiwan proper, he said. declared.

Su agreed with Cheng on the power and importance of numbers.

The combination of different drones “will allow Taiwan to amass a sizable arsenal of precision strike munitions to counter the PLA’s numerical advantage, greatly leveraging the effectiveness of the Taiwan Armed Forces in defending the nation.” , Su said.

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