Chinese long-range drones, artillery on artificial islands

First posted on UNCLOSforum.wordpress.com on May 29, 2015

FP Situation Report
Friday, May 29, 2015

One of the biggest bits of news has been the first sighting of a massive new Chinese long-range drone that is thought to be able to pick up and track stealthy aircraft at long range. The drone, first reported Thursday by Popular MechanicsJeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, had its maiden flight in February, and “could change the brewing arms race in the Asia Pacific.”

The double-bodied behemoth, with an estimated 40-meter wingspan, is packed with seven different radar systems and a variety of surveillance equipment to help it detect U.S. stealth aircraft like the F-35 fighter, B-2 bombers, and ships at long distances.

And to no one’s surprise, Beijing has been placing offensive weaponry on the artificial islands it’s been building in the South China Sea. We’ve already seen what look like air strips on some of the clumps of dirt hastily dumped on top of coral reefs, but the mobile artillery pieces that American intelligence have detected is something new.

While hardly a threat to any naval or air assets in the region, the guns are within range of nearby islands claimed by Vietnam, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Julian Barnes and Gordon Lubold, and their sheer symbolism carries some significant weight. With American surveillance planes flying nearby and U.S. Navy ships insisting on the right to transit close to the makeshift bits of land, the artillery pieces represent a small, but real, escalation of the game.

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