Chinese legislator urges enhanced drone usage in border regions
Larger UAVs to provide longer endurance, better reliability, heavier loads: experts
Published: Feb 28, 2021 08:13 PM
A GJ-11 stealth attack drone makes its parade debut during the National Day parade held in Beijing on October 1, 2019. Photo: Fan Lingzhi/GT

A GJ-11 stealth attack drone makes its parade debut during the National Day parade held in Beijing on October 1, 2019. Photo: Fan Lingzhi/GT

A Chinese legislator who leads a regiment in the country's southwestern border defense frontline will submit a proposal at the upcoming two sessions, suggesting that China should enhance border management and control by deploying more smart equipment like drones, as his experience and research indicate huge room for improvement despite the wide use of such devices by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

To tackle current issues, which include the short endurance, high dependence on weather conditions and insufficient payload capacity resulting from the initial commissioning of only easy-to-use, small drones, the PLA could use more sophisticated, larger drones in its arsenal, experts said on Sunday.

The proposal comes after a months-long border standoff between China and India started by Indian troops' provocations since April last year.

Hou Yun, the commander of a border defense regiment affiliated with the PLA Tibet Military Command and also National People's Congress deputy, will submit the proposal at this year's two sessions, which are scheduled to convene in a week, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Saturday.

Having garrisoned at the plateau region for 22 years, Hou told CCTV that he believes it is important to accelerate the development and commissioning of smart equipment that can cover the entire border defense frontlines and monitor the regions at all times, boosting the PLA troops' situational awareness and sensitivity.

The goal is to resolve three key problems: to see where people can't see, hear where people can't hear and go where people can't go, Hou said.

Hou recently led a patrol team to a valley at an elevation of 4,000 meters, CCTV reported. The patrol route is more than 80 kilometers long and sees the troops passing through various terrains including jungles, glaciers and snowy mountains, and many scout positions are inaccessible by humans during the rainy or snowy seasons.

Soldiers told Hou that while unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also called drones, are in wide use already, they have short endurance, are vulnerable to rain and face challenges in reconnaissance missions in foggy weather, which is common in the region. It is also hoped that drones can increase the efficiency of transport missions, as they are becoming widely used to deliver supplies to remote outposts that are otherwise challenging to reach, CCTV reported.

Drones currently in use by the frontline troops are mainly small or medium-sized multi-rotor drones, a PLA veteran who conducted missions in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region and asked to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Sunday.

Such drones can vertically take off and land, making them operable at almost any location. They don't require an airfield and it's easy for frontline troops to learn their technical requirements, making them a first choice for border missions, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Sunday.

But they are characterized by shortcomings such as those that the frontline troops have reported, and that is why the PLA could use larger, fixed-wing drones like the GJ-1 and GJ-2 armed reconnaissance drones. These models can stay in the air for dozens of hours and are equipped with more sophisticated payloads, but they can only take off and land from airfields, so they should work well as a complement to the smaller drones, Fu said.

In addition to aerial drones, land-based robots could also be developed and deployed, and all of these devices are expected to become smarter, Fu said, noting that Hou's proposal is a good one and fits the PLA's missions in border regions.

The Chinese arms industry should also push for more advanced technologies to enhance the capabilities of smaller drones, the veteran said.

In April last year, Indian border troops built facilities at the Line of Actual Control in the Galwan Valley, which eventually led to a border clash between Chinese and Indian troops in June. This resulted in casualties on both sides and a months-long border standoff at multiple locations, with both sides starting to disengage troops only in February.

During the Galwan clash, the PLA deployed drones developed by Shenzhen Keweitai Enterprise Development Co, a private firm, to conduct reconnaissance on the hostile forces, the company revealed on Wednesday.

The company's drones are widely used by the PLA Xinjiang Military Command to monitor and control the border, and also by the PLA troops in Tibet to transport supplies to isolated border defense outposts.

Fu said that China's state-owned and private companies, together with the military's development departments, are fully capable of developing more advanced drones to meet the demands of the PLA border defense forces, and China has world-class technology in drones and smart robots.