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PLA Air Force practices new methods of drone combat

Starting in 2023, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force has been practicing new methods of drone combat, including remote controlled takeoffs and landings and jointly operating with other military services and branches.

di Nicola e Gabriele Iuvinale

In a recent exercise held in the deserts of Northwest China, a GJ-2 armed reconnaissance drone conducted reconnaissance and strike training in a realistic combat scenario, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Sunday.

The drone operators, operating the drone remotely from a location far away from the airfield, were tasked to search, detect, identify, locate and attack multiple targets within a single sortie.

This kind of remote control is a new combat pattern developed by the regiment this year, CCTV reported.

When needed, the ground station can connect with the aircraft from anywhere and complete tasks including takeoff and landing as well as other missions, Yu Ruichao, a member of a regiment affiliated with the air force of the PLA Western Theater Command, said in the report.

This means that the PLA Air Force has established a comprehensive command and control system over drones featuring long-range communications relays, including satellite communications, a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Monday.

The drone regiment also carried out joint exercises with other military services and branches, including long-range rocket units of the PLA Army, special forces, and manned aircraft, CCTV said.

Armed reconnaissance drones can provide reconnaissance and target guidance data that can maximize other military units' capabilities, experts said.

"Manned aircraft fly faster than drones, but they also have shorter windows in searching for targets. In non-contact precision strike missions, [drones and manned aircraft] can make up for each other's shortcomings," said Li Yang, a member of a regiment.

Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times that the PLA Air Force is exploring and practicing all kinds of different tactics for drone combat.

As the PLA's first armed reconnaissance drone unit, the regiment also serves as a talent cultivation base, CCTV reported.

"We can transfer personnel to other units entirely and systematically, including drone operators, link planners, staff officers and support personnel," said Zhang Huipeng, a member of the regiment.

Drones, large and small, are widely commissioned across the PLA, including the Army and the Navy, according to media reports.

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