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The PLA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems: New Capabilities for a “New Era” of Chinese Military Power

  • The PLA's Unmanned Aerial Systems

    The PLA's Unmanned Aerial Systems

    The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues to work diligently on all aspects of their aerospace forces. This includes areas not only of traditional aircraft, but also in more modern, and some cutting edge, technologies. The UAV is one area in which the People’s Republic of China, and the PLA in specific, has invested significant time and effort. While we recognize that the term “unmanned” is the common and official term, it is rather misleading in the fact that humans, at least up until today, still play a critical role in their operations. Nonetheless, we will not buck convention at this moment, and continue to use “unmanned” for the ‘U’ in UAV, for this paper. The PRC is the world’s largest producer of UAVs at this time, and captures a vast portion of the commercial market, as well as the military one. While it is important to keep the commercial aspects in mind, this particular paper will focus on military UAVs, their development, deployments, and current and potential uses on the battlefield of today and tomorrow. The paper seeks to serve as a starting point to understand this growing field, and to give analysts a common baseline from which to work, and from which to judge growth, both rapidity and complexity, in the future. We hope you will find this foundational paper useful and timely, and welcome any feedback on its contents, or suggestions for further or future research in this field.

    Dr. Brendan S. Mulvaney
    Director, China Aerospace Studies Institute