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What could China do to hit back at a US drone attack?

What could China do to hit back at a US drone attackChina’s most effective response to a multiple US drone attack could be to hit back at the unmanned vehicles’ base and destroy the entire fleet, a Chinese military analyst suggested after reports that a recent US drone exercise might have been aimed at China.

As one of the hi-tech weapons of modern warfare, drones can be difficult to detect because they are small and operate at low altitudes.

So the most effective countermeasure could be to shoot down at least enemy drone, use data from the debris to determine where it came from and then blow up the rest of the fleet at its base, the observer said. That though could lead to a rapid escalation in tensions.

“The Chinese military could locate the drone base’s once they have shot it down and collect the data … the most effective countermeasure is to blow up the base and destroy the whole fleet,” said Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang, a Beijing-based military science and technology institute.

The assessment was made in response to a report by the US-based Air Force magazine that the US staged a simulated island assault exercise in California in September involving the MQ-9 Reaper drone.

American air personnel in the drill wore a patch featuring an MQ-9 superimposed over a red silhouette of China in what Chinese state media described as a provocative gesture.

The magazine said the exercise was the first training event focused on drone tactics in the Pacific and was in keeping with a pivot away from the Middle East.

The US has ramped up flyovers in the South China Sea by sending bombers, surveillance aircraft and global hawk drones since the Covid-19 pandemic began early this year, raising concern by China that Washington might deploy drones such as the MQ-9 to attack Chinese-built facilities in the Spratly archipelago.

As the first unmanned aerial vehicle that can fly for more than 40 hours, the MQ-9 has a wingspan of up to 24 metres (79 feet). The drone has been sent on decapitation strikes in the Middle East, including to kill top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in January.

“No longer is the MQ-9 tied down to large forward-operating bases or bases in the continental United States,” Brian Davis, commander of the 29th Attack Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, was quoted by US military magazine Stars and Stripes as saying.

The drones’ capabilities could come in handy in a place such as the South China Sea, he said.

Chinese military experts said most Chinese drones could not counter the MQ-9, but Beijing could deploy fighter jets when US drones entered Chinese airspace.

Zhou said China had just two strike-capable drones that could counter the MQ-9.

Chinese-made Wing Loong II drones were reported to have hunted down about 16 Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones in the Libyan civil war. The conflict was defined by military experts as the first warfare test of drones.

“So far, China has only two strike-capable drones able to counter the MQ-9: the Wing Loong II and Rainbow-5, or Caihong-5,” Zhou said.

“But the endurance and payload of the two Chinese drones are just two-thirds of their American counterpart because of their inferior engines.”

Since the unit price of Wing Loong II is less than half that of the MQ-9, Zhou said another countermeasure could be for China to send more drones in a “drones wave strategy” to deal with their American counterpart.

Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said another option for the Chinese military was to deploy fourth-generation aircraft such as the J-10 and J-11 fighter jets, as well as the J-16 fighter. Alternatively, air-defence missiles or vertical guns could be used.

“[China should deploy] fighter jets because they are speedier and flying higher than the drones, but the key precondition is you should be able to discover [the US drones]” Li said.

“That’s why China has developed comprehensive and sophisticated electronic warfare systems, which include the use of radar to detect and release electronic interference signals to jam rival communication systems.”

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