How drones might change the security environment in Asia
After the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia drone wars have attracted attention by many strategic and military thinkers. TX Hammes already wrote an early and programmatic article”The Future of Warfare:Small, many, smart vss. Few and exquisite?” in “War on the Rocks”
Some strategic thinkers now also think about the implications drones could have for the warfare in Asia, especially regarding China and North Korea.
Robert E. Kelly, professor for international relations at the Pusan University wrote in his article “Drones are changing how Iran and North Korea fight wars” in The National Interest:
“In the United States, it is often said that the F-35 is the last manned fighter jet America will produce. Drones are cheaper; they can loiter over a battlespace for long hours; and perhaps most importantly, if they are shot-down, there is no human pilot to die or be taken prisoner. Politically this is hugely attractive. It insures that events such as the trial of Francis Gary Powers or the imprisonment of U.S. pilots during the Vietnam War will never recur. The political path of least resistance for airstrikes is now to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) rather than manned planes.
For smaller powers like North Korea or Iran, drones offer two other benefits. First, because drones are so comparatively inexpensive, they open the possibility of contesting U.S. air dominance. To be sure, such a challenge is still small. But in environments where U.S. air superiority is nearly complete, drones open up new space and possibilities, and this is bound to be attractive.(…)
For North Korea specifically, the Saudi strike may open some new options. Conventionally, North Korea is greatly outgunned in the sky. It also badly lacks aerial reconnaissance capabilities, especially compared to the U2 flights and satellite coverage that the United States (and Japan) conduct over North Korea. The North has already sent UAVs with crude cameras over South Korean airspace since at least 2014. This will almost certainly continue. Drones are cheap enough to be within even North Korea’s constrained resources, and counter-balancing the massive information asymmetry between U.S. and North Korea aerial reconnaissance makes UAVs even more attractive. Nor, conveniently, do the North Koreans care for rules of airspace sovereignty, particularly regarding South Korea. North Korea has provoked South Korea along the demilitarized zone and the northern limit line (NLL) for decades. It will hardly stop now. Seoul is, at last, investing in countermeasures.
The most disturbing possibility though is that North Korea would copy the Iranian strike on Saudi Arabia. UAVs allow the North to expand its traditional land and sea provocations along the DMZ and NLL into the sky. This would enlarge the area of operations for North Korean misbehavior; a whole new list of possible targets would come into range. Traditionally, North Korean provocations occur right on the border, presumably because Pyongyang lacks the ability to strike in depth. That restriction would now be lifted. North Korean drones might now penetrate deeper into South Korea before creating havoc.
This possibility is enhanced by the proximity of South Korea’s largest urban agglomeration to the North. The Seoul-Kyeonggi-Incheon corridor holds some 60 percent of the entire South Korean population. The Blue House—the residence of the South Korean president—is just 23 miles from the DMZ. South Korea’s center of gravity is flush against the border, which would offer many inviting, hard-to-defend targets for Northern drones.
In the strike on Saudi Arabia, Iran has enjoyed some plausible deniability, suggesting it was perhaps the Houthis of Yeman or insurgents in Iraq. Luckily, North Korea would not enjoy such plausibility. Any serious drone strike along the DMZ-NLL would immediately be traced back to Pyongyang. Hence a large-scale strike like last week’s is unlikely here. But UAVs do significantly widen the space for long-established North Korean harassment of the South. And that, in turn, enlarges the possibility that one of these provocations spins out of control and leads to serious conflict.“
Chinese scholar Chen Guodong in his article” The Chinese Rocket Force is about to lose its only deterrent“ thinks if Taiwan would produce 100 000 MQ1- Predator drones, China would lose its deterrent in form of its rocket force and thereby air superiority. However, the weak point of this argument is, that this magic number ignores the financial costs, might overestimate the production and technological capabilities of the Taiwanese defense industry and the political will of the USA to deliver Taiwan such technology or drones and risk an aggressive conflict and even war with China. Another question is that the USA, China and other Asian states will also arm themselves with drones and might further destabilize the strategic balance.
„The Chinese Rocket Force is about to lose its only deterrent
Why has the Chinese army not carried out amphibious landing combat exercises above the battalion level for more than two years?
In May 2018, I published „THE MAIN ATTACK PROGRAM OF ROCKET ARMY：THE NEW THINKING OF CHINA’S ZERO CASUALTIES REGAINING TAIWAN „in the United States. I clearly pointed out in the book that there are many effective anti-landing weapons, and digital artillery alone can make landing operations withdraw from the world war arena. Decades ago, various cannons on warships had been automated. The U.S. Army also has a 120mm fully automatic mortar. These automated guns can be unattended or remotely controlled. Of course, automated medium-range and long-range rockets with strong fortifications are the best way to suppress landing forces. After reading this book, the Chinese army finally understood that the landing operation was outdated.
However, if the Chinese Air Force can gain control over Taiwan, can effectively destroy or suppress the radar of Taiwan’s air defense system, and can destroy the digital artillery in the underground fortifications, the Chinese army can finally land.
Taiwan’s long-range air defense missiles usually adopt radio-command mid-course guidance and semi-active radar guided terminal homing. I pointed out on page 115 of this book that if the E-3 airborne early warning aircraft of the U.S. Far East Air Force were to provide early warning and command to the Taiwan Air Force over Japan’s „Yonaguni island“ 119 kilometers from the east coast of Taiwan, even if Taiwan’s own search and alert radar cannot be used, Taiwan’s long-range air defense missiles can still be launched quickly and accurately. This analysis proves that it is difficult for the Chinese mainland Air Force to gain control over Taiwan.
Therefore, the Chinese military can only accept my research conclusion, that is, it can only use the Rocket Force’s short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles to cut off Taiwan’s power supply and force the Taiwan authorities to give in. The Chinese mainland military can effectively intercept the fighter jets and cruise missiles of the Taiwan military. Taiwan military cannot effectively intercept the short- and medium-range ballistic missiles of the Chinese mainland military. On both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the one that has the advantage for the time being is the Rocket Force of the Chinese mainland military. Unexpectedly, senior cadres of the Chinese military, the Chinese government, and the Chinese Communist Party believe that this advantage is long-term, even eternal. The laws of science and war show that no one party can have a long-term advantage.
Offense is the best defense and the lowest cost defense. I reminded the Chinese military in the book that within half a year after the publication of this book, it is the time window for the Chinese Rocket Army to regain Taiwan. After half a year, Taiwan may find a way to deal with it. In fact, before my book was published, I knew how Taiwan effectively attacked China. I decided to keep it secret for the time being and let the military on both sides of the strait freely compete. As a result, a long time has passed, and the Taiwan military has never thought of how to effectively attack the Chinese mainland. The U.S. military and many think tank experts also stubbornly believe that the Chinese military will adopt a three-dimensional landing operation plan to regain Taiwan. The reason for American scholars may be that this book has been published in the United States. Will the Chinese military still adopt it? I have clearly stated in the book that as long as the United States cannot effectively intercept short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles, Mainland China can always implement the “THE MAIN ATTACK PROGRAM OF ROCKET ARMY”. On September 27, 2020, in the new military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, both sides used a large number of unmanned aircraft. Although Azerbaijan used drones to win the conflict, it has no reference to Taiwan. A significant UAV combat case for Taiwan is Iran’s use of drones to secretly attack Saudi Arabia’s oil fields and large oil refineries on September 14, 2019. The long-range attack by Iranian drones is of great significance to Taiwan. Iran revealed the secrets I kept for Mainland China.
Suitable for Taiwan is the MQ-1 Predator UAV, with a maximum range of 3,700 kilometers and can reach all cities in China (except western Tibet and Xinjiang). The MQ-1 Predator UAV can launch two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles (each weighing 49 kg). If you remove the landing gear of the MQ-1 Predator drone and change it to catapult takeoff, remove the satellite antenna, remove the photoelectric detection equipment, remove the radar, remove the AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, use the lidar altimeter, the aircraft structure and engine according to the standard of disposable products (20 hours service life), MQ-1 Predator drone can be simplified as a piston propeller powered long-range cruise missile. The simplified version of the MQ-1 Predator drone can carry 150 kilograms of high explosives. Its manufacturing cost may be controlled within $50,000, just like the entry price of a high-end car.
Taiwan’s technological level and industrial production capacity are significantly higher than that of Turkey. Taiwan can produce 100,000 simplified MQ-1 Predator drones in one month, and 300,000 simplified MQ-1 Predator drones in three months. If a frontal intensive penetration is adopted, tens of thousands of simplified versions of the MQ-1 Predator drones can easily exhaust China’s air defense missiles. If Taiwan operates three shifts a day, 100,000 simplified MQ-1 Predator drones can be produced in two weeks. This drone takes off from the eastern coast of Taiwan, and it is difficult to detect the launch site. More than 100,000 simplified versions of the MQ-1 Predator drones can also cut off most of the electricity supply in Mainland China, can destroy most of the oil refineries in Mainland China, and can destroy 3,200 jumbo jets in Mainland China. The above-mentioned attack effect is truly unbearable in Mainland China.
Once Taiwan has more than 100,000 simplified versions of MQ-1 Predator drones, it can attack all key economic targets in Mainland China like Iran launches long-range attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields and refineries. The military power across the strait will be rebalanced. The Continental Rocket Force will lose its only deterrent capability. At that time, unless China carries out political reforms, there will be no national reunification.
The new military technology revolution that Andrew Marshall studied 25 years ago was long-range precision strike. The great Mr. Marshall may not have thought that the protagonist of long-range precision strike weapons is low-cost and low-tech long-range drones. Great powers will lose their military superiority, and China and the United States are no exception. The hope that Mainland China can regain Taiwan by force will soon disappear, as long as the Taiwan leader takes the correct action immediately.
About the author: Chen Guodong, a non-partisan Chinese scholar, has published two military monographs in the United States. WILL THE U.S.A. BE REPLACED BY JAPAN?——The Immediate Completion of Japanese Underwater Military Revolution was published in the United States in March 2017. THE MAIN ATTACK PROGRAM OF ROCKET ARMY：THE NEW THINKING OF CHINA’S ZERO CASUALTIES REGAINING TAIWAN was published in the United States in May 2018.
台湾的远程防空导弹通常采取无线电指令+半主动雷达制导。我在这部书的第115页指出，如果美国远东空军的E-3空中早期预警飞机在距离台湾东海岸119千米的日本“与那国岛”（yonaguni island japan）上空为台湾空军提供预警和指挥服务，即使台湾自己的搜索与警戒雷达无法使用，台湾的远程防空导弹仍然可以快速地和准确地发射。这种分析证明，中国大陆空军很难在台湾上空取得控制权。