Di Vincenzo Santo*
(Da The Diplomat del 3 febbraio 2018)
Beijing. China is making rapid strides in the potential deployment of drone swarms in conflict. China set a world record in December 2017 at the Global Fortune Forum in Guangzhou when it succeeded in mobilizing the largest swarm of drones in history. Over 1,000 miniature drones performed a variety of tasks to showcase the collective orchestration of the high-tech instruments. […] The performance put on near the end of 2017 demonstrates China’s potential skill in effective swarm systems. Flying 1,108 tiny dronebots in as a single unit illustrated China’s acuity and interest in autonomous flight capabilities, not simply of drones but rather of smart drone instruments capable of much more. Having shown its mastery of the key to successful drone swarming, China has moved beyond the initial steps in the process. Programmed units have also proven their capacity for independent thought. During its swarming demonstrations, the miniature drones, when falling out of sync with the group or failing to achieve their intended objectives, would execute their own landing.
If drones swarms can be used for overwhelming and confusing military or security defense systems, allowing conventional forces to almost freely enter into a particular environment, a conventional force will have achieved a major or even decisive tactical or operational advantage over an enemy even prior to engagement. The United States’ Low-Cost Unmanned aerial vehicle Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program, for instance, exhibits a system that rapidly discharges drones into the air from a single tube, like an anti-aircraft gun spewing hundreds of rounds in seconds. Given China’s success in replicating lower-tech versions of the U.S. Predator and Reaper, similar systems are equally attractive. […]
A swarm of drones, for example, can operate as if they were conducting an attack on a particular target type, like a warship or a lone tank. Once perfected, the swarm and its flight patterns can then be fine-tuned to account for the existence of small payloads. Short of carrying a payload independent of the drone proper, a drone could essentially act as a missile itself. Though previous simulations involved roughly 100 drones, mastering formations of 1,000+ drones would radically change the outcome. Far from practicing drone swarms in the air, close to the ground, and over water, China looks to apply its swarming capabilities in near space (approximately 20 km above sea level). In 2017, Beijing successfully tested its spy drones in near space, for the purpose of gathering intelligence that can be used for military and security purposes. Mapping terrain and knowing the battlefield prior to an operation carries distinct advantages. […]
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