Officially it’s just a research vessel, but China’s newly unveiled unmanned aircraft carrier is a clear sign that Beijing is rushing to deploy a range of autonomous drones in an effort to force for military superiority in the Pacific.
State media reported last month that the Zhu Hai Yun – the “Zhu Hai Cloud” – is capable of transporting an unspecified number of drones as well as surface ships and submarines, and operates autonomously. powered by artificial intelligence.
The 89-meter (292-foot) vessel will enter service later this year with a top speed of 18 knots, greatly increasing China’s surveillance potential over the vast Pacific Ocean region without the country considers its sphere of influence.
“The ship is not only an unprecedented precision instrument in marine science, but also a platform for marine disaster prevention and mitigation, accurate mapping of the seabed, and monitoring of the marine environment. and maritime search and rescue,” Chen Dake, a laboratory director at the company that built the aircraft carrier, told China Daily.
Militaries around the world see fleets of drones as combat-critical players, able to overwhelm defenses in sheer numbers and without endangering their lives. soldiers, such as with more expensive jets or tanks.
“This may be a first development of its kind, but other navies around the world, including the US Navy, are experimenting with the ability to operate remotely in the maritime domain.” US Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Lushenko, who is also an international relations specialist. expert at Cornell University in New York.
Even if the vessel’s actual capabilities are yet to be announced, Beijing is broadcasting its intention to strengthen its territorial claims in the region, as seen with the security partnership agreed to last year. last month with the Solomon Islands northeast of Australia.
“It is definitely imposing, provocative, escalation and aggressive,” Lushenko told AFP.
The construction of fleets of autonomous and relatively inexpensive drones will greatly enhance China’s ability to enforce its so-called anti-access and area denial (A2-AD) in Thailand. Binh Duong, with the aim of weakening American influence for decades.
Unlike traditional aircraft carriers or destroyers that carry hundreds of troops, unmanned aircraft carriers can navigate themselves for longer periods of time while sending devices that create surveillance “nets,” capable of shoot rockets.
The Zhu Hai Yun could also improve China’s seabed mapping, giving its submarines a covert advantage.
Strategists Joseph Trevithick and Oliver Parken write on the influential War Zone site: “These are capabilities that could become important in any future conflict wrought by China, including over islands. Taiwan”.
Beijing has made no secret of its desire to seize control of Taiwan, and military experts say they are closely monitoring the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to gauge how it might do so. which and when.
And last month, Chinese researchers published a drone swarm experiment that supposedly showed 10 autonomous devices navigating a dense bamboo forest without crashing into trees or into each other. .
“The ultimate goal is something with collective intelligence,” said Jean-Marc Rickli, head of risk at the Geneva Center for Security Policy.
He told AFP: “The similarity is a bit like the school of fish. They create shapes in the water not a decision of any fish, but a result of their collective intelligence.”
It would be a huge technological leap forward from current weapons, which can be programmed and semi-automatic but require an operator to respond to unexpected challenges.
In theory, a fleet of self-navigating drones could neutralize defenses or attack forces in sheer numbers, saturating battle zones on land or at sea for until the opponent’s arsenal is exhausted.
“A conventional attack becomes impossible when you are faced with tens, hundreds or thousands of devices that are developed and operated much cheaper than heavy conventional weapons,” said Rickli.
Noting this profound change in modern warfare, a RAND Corporation study from 2020 shows that while unmanned vehicles need significant improvements in onboard handling, ” the overall computing power required would be modest by modern standards – certainly less than that of contemporary smartphones”.
“A squadron of approximately 900 personnel, suitably equipped and trained, can launch and retrieve 300 L-CAATs every six hours, for a total of 1,200 sorties per day,” it said, referring to to low-cost aircraft technology – which means such cheap equipment an army can afford to lose them.
Lushenko said of Beijing’s new unmanned aircraft carrier: “We have signs that China is developing capabilities rapidly.
“What we lack is empirical data to suggest that China’s one-party state could indeed use the ship in an integrative manner in conflict.”
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from an aggregated feed.)