Welcome to the Department of the Air Force's China Aerospace Studies Institute   

CASI Banner

Survey of PRC Drone Swarm Inventions

  • Published

This work builds upon CASI’s 2018 The PLA’s Unmanned Aerial Systems: New Capabilities for a “New Era” of Chinese Military Power by Elsa Kania1 and is intended to specifically address the Chinese capacity for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) swarm innovation, tactics, and mission sets.

In December 2018, China unveiled its drone light show at the World Fortune Forum in Guangzhou. Then, in 2022, China Daily News released footage of a Zhejiang University team’s drone swarm following a notional target through a bamboo forest. Additionally, in mid-2022, Chinese press reported drones capable of launching and swarming from the Shandong aircraft carrier. Because of these events, members of the U.S. Department of Defense and their partners and allies began speculating on China’s intent and capabilities to use swarm technology during future conflict. However, China’s defense apparatus has not publicly released plans for drone swarm doctrine, strategy, or research and development that would point to how such systems would specifically be used.

This paper presents the findings from surveying unclassified Chinese patent records to gain better understanding of Chinese drone swarm employment plans, advancements, and challenges. It is meant to be an exploratory study, one that evaluates Chinese inventions—both applied for and granted patents—to eliminate unknown unknowns and provide a foundation for future analysis.

Click here for the full report