Chinese Drone Operators Are Preparing for War By Studying America

September 14, 2022 Topic: China Region: Asia-Pacific Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: TaiwanUnited StatesKVD-001 UAVJ-11ApacheKiowaAfghanistan

Chinese Drone Operators Are Preparing for War By Studying America

The People’s Republic of China has been copying U.S. military strategies and tactics for many years.


The Chinese military appears to be mirroring or even entirely copying manned-unmanned teaming tactics with drones and helicopters nearly identical to those used more than a decade ago by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. 

The Chinese government-backed Global Times newspaper cites Taiwanese reports about a sighting of a small Chinese reconnaissance drone called the KVD-001 UAV operating as a relay communications “node” between helicopters. 


“The KVD-001 UAV sent real-time data of the target to the controlling center. The helicopters took off and precisely and quickly locked onto their targets and conducted attacks,” the Global Times reports, citing China’s CCTV television network.  

The paper described how the KVD-001 drone sent targeting data and specifics to helicopters flying below the radar at much lower altitudes and performed a critical data-relay function for manned helicopters closing in on a target. 

“Helicopters, especially military helicopters, have to fly very low to conduct effective penetration. Under this circumstance, it requires UAVs to conduct reconnaissance and send data of the targets to the helicopters in order to allow the latter to conduct effective attacks. It can extend the Army's aviation command communication link, provide command communication relay between the army's aviation ground command post and air formations,” the Global Times writes. 

The Chinese paper notes that while Taiwanese authorities were quick to point out Chinese J-11 fighter jets and Navy ships operating near the island of Taiwan, Taiwanese authorities appear to have “missed” or been unable to detect the Chinese helicopters. This is significant and seems to be the story's intent, meaning that manned-unmanned teaming between drones and helicopters in real time introduces new tactical advantages. 

Interestingly, this tactic was used by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan ten to fifteen years ago through an innovative effort to integrate drones with Apache and Kiowa helicopters. Initially beginning as a program called Vuit-2, Apache and Kiowa helicopter crews could view the real-time streaming video directly from the aircraft’s cockpit. This breakthrough yielded immediate tactical results and quickly evolved into what the Army began to refer to as different levels of manned-unmanned teaming. As the technology matured, Apache and Kiowa crews were not only able to view real-time video streams from the drones but also control its flight path and sensor payload. 

In a manner nearly identical to the Chinese exercises cited in the Global Times, U.S. Army helicopters have for many years been able to receive mission specifics and targeting details before even taking off because data and critical information regarding a mission were instantly sent from the reconnaissance drone to the Army helicopter cockpits. These specific scenarios were happening in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army more than ten years ago, suggesting that China has been way behind the U.S. military in the realm of manned-unmanned teaming. 

What’s significant about this is that, while China is already well known as a cyber espionage threat and a country willing to steal US military technology, the People’s Republic of China has been copying U.S. military strategies and tactics for many years as well. Regardless of how effective it may be, an apparent Chinese effort to replicate U.S. manned-unmanned teaming tactics appears to be more than a decade behind the U.S. military.  

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. 

Image: Reuters.