According to Chinese state media outlet Global Times report that china’s new combat drones integrated with advanced artificial intelligence could soon be deployed – citing military experts. Li Yidong, the chief designer of China’s Wing Loong drone series, stated regarding this potential development:
“AI is a huge field with many basic technologies, which are developing. We are doing all sorts of work to apply these technologies on drones, and also piloted aircraft… We want [drones] to fly intelligently, have smart situational awareness, capable of identifying targets and automatically make some decisions.”
All known drones in service today are remotely piloted, often from sites thousands of miles away, and while this avoids risking the lives of their pilots it also leaves them potentially vulnerable to having signals jammed.
The commandeering of a high-end platform, the U.S. RQ-170 stealth drone, by Iran’s armed forces in 2011, demonstrated the vulnerabilities of such remotely piloted aircraft.
Integrating artificial intelligence onto drones could allow them to deploy independently without a connection to ground control.
Drones would, according to the experts cited in the Global Times report, be able to fly on their own, identify potential targets and make combat decisions.
China has emerged as a world leader in drone technologies, with the Wing Loong program representing only the lighter end of its fleet.
China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) has sent static displays of mock-ups of the AVIC Wing Loong I and Wing Loong II UAVs at the At MAKS 2019 Airshow.
A number of platforms with advanced radar-evading capabilities have also emerged such as the Sharp Sword – as has a highly ambitious heavy platform that is speculated to be a next-generation fighter.
The design of this new Chinese platform, known as the Dark Sword, was unveiled in 2018 and is expected to integrate AI systems and be specialized in air to air combat.
China’s market for armed UAVs continues to grow; The Wing Loong II, of which Beijing has sold 15 to Saudi Arabia, 15 to Turkmenistan, and an unspecified number to Egypt, is far more capable. Whereas the Wing Loong I has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 1, 200kg, the Wing Loong II’s MTOW is 4,200 kg.
As with its smaller sibling, it includes a ground control station and an integrated logistics system. It has three hardpoints on each wing. An AVIC flyer for the type shows it carrying 10 air-to-ground munitions, with four mounted on dual racks. Sensor payloads include an electro-optical (EO) surveillance/targeting system and a synthetic aperture radar.