China has a new scout drone (but what does it matter?)
Recent exercises, the Global Times supported by the Chinese government paper says, included “a special mission reconnaissance robot, the use of newly ordered assault vehicles and the practice of coordinated aerial drone swarm operations.”
The robot is a robotic ground vehicle that rolls on caterpillars, with sensors and monitoring technology installed on its turret. The Chinese robot engaged in something that the US Army Futures Command has been working on for years, unmanned-unmanned team where aerial and ground drones share information in real time.
“The robot can replace soldiers in the first infiltration missions. It is equipped with reconnaissance and positioning functions, and can spot and destroy small targets, ”said Zhang Xuanming, squad leader of the PLA brigade, in a CCTV report quoted by the Global Times.
While the Chinese are known to have worked on a wide swath of small, medium and large air, sea and land drones, the air-to-ground drone team presents new tactical threats. These include forward operations reconnaissance missions, a greater safe distance for humans operating in a command and control capacity, and even the prospect of coordinated weapon attacks. This raises tactical and ethical concerns, as the rapid advancement of self-sustaining algorithms quickly introduces the reality that unmanned systems can find, track, and attack targets without human intervention. While the United States maintains its “human in the loop” doctrine regarding the use of lethal force, there is little assurance that potential adversaries will take a similar position.
The use of armored drones of many sizes and configurations is currently being tested in the US military to drill tank ditches, monitor enemy forces, transport ammunition, and share targeting data between air-to-ground and maritime assets. . The army recently succeeded Project convergence in Yuma, Arizona, offers an interesting window into this type of tactical dynamic, as mini-drones “air-launched effects” have been able to acquire targets, transmit them to other unmanned means such as aerial drones which have then transmitted the targeting specifics almost immediately via an AI-activated database to merge the sensor to the shooter. The web kill attack process has been shown to fail to condense that time sensor-shooter from twenty minutes to a few seconds in some cases. Attack speed, data sharing, and sensor-gunner alignment are known to be critical factors in future war planning.
Where are the chinese with that kind of process? This issue is probably receiving a lot of attention right now, given the speed of the US process. Of course, the purpose or intention of this type of “high speed” attack technology is to stay ahead of a potential adversary in a combat engagement. Therefore, the mere existence of Chinese armed drone vehicles operating in coordination with aerial drones is, in itself, not necessarily a huge risk, for example. On the contrary, the speed at which information can be shared and transmitted between drones and sent to an optimal attack weapon appears to determine the true severity of any type of Chinese threat. The Global Times report doesn’t say much about the actual speed, bandwidth, and targeting accuracy achieved by the new robot. Simple drone networking has long been established as a technical possibility, so it may still be unclear just how advanced Chinese drone networking could be. However, it would be foolish to think that this kind of Chinese weapon development does not attract the attention of the Pentagon.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for National Interest. Osborn previously served in the Pentagon as a highly trained expert in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air presenter and military specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.