With drones assuming an enhanced role in modern warfare, as demonstrated in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, China has developed a state-of-the-art concept allowing a truck-mounted launcher to fire multiple drones simultaneously.
As part of a program to preview the capabilities displayed at China’s upcoming Zhuhai Air Show, Chinese state television CCTV aired a brief clip of a truck-mounted swarm launcher that reportedly launches about 18 drones at once.
China Ordnance Equipment Group (COEG), which manufactures both civilian and military technologies produced for domestic use and export, is developing the launcher.
According to the CCTV footage, the technology will be displayed for the first time at the 2022 Zhuhai Air Show, which begins on November 8.
An array of new technology is being teased by China ahead of its much-awaited air show. However, the drone swarm launcher is significant as a similar technology was already demonstrated in 2020.
During the tests conducted by the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, drones were released from truck-based, 48-unit launchers.
The reports about the 2020 tests stated that the system could launch up to 200 drones at once and that the drones were quickly and simultaneously released while the transport platforms were in motion.
It further stated that the drones switched between different formations once they were released and conducted reconnaissance and attack missions on ground targets. The system is not the same as teased by CCTV recently, but the teaser is undoubtedly reminiscent of the previous system.
According to the report, the upcoming system will function as a small, extremely mobile loitering drone swarm launcher. The drones are believed to be available in both information-gathering and attack variants and come in individual launch canisters for simple reloading.
The system would be used for surveillance, area control, damage assessment, precision strike, and cluster strike saturating attacks.
The CCTV report also stated that the drones would be perfect for attacking ground troops, light armored vehicles, simple fortifications, and other high-value targets like radar sites when outfitted with an explosive charge.
The video showed two of the undisclosed loitering munitions mockups that the system would presumably be able to launch. One could be seen displayed next to the vehicle with its wings spread out, while one projects out from a launch tube with its wings folded. The drone shown also has a gimbaled sensor turret on its nose.
In the 2020 test of a similar technology, the drones used looked identical to China’s CH-901 drones, which are regular recon drones but can turn into cruise missiles or suicide drones on command, as noted by Global Times.
The new teaser and the subsequent exhibition in Zhuhai are significant as it comes amid the growing use of drones in warfare, as has been widely demonstrated in Ukraine.
China’s Drone Swarm Breakthrough
The idea of a drone swarm is to overwhelm the adversary by using many drones deployed at regular intervals to share information, carry out attacks, and overwhelm the enemy in general. In addition to ground vehicles and helicopters, drone swarms can be launched from warships like amphibious landing ships and warplanes like bombers.
As far as the truck-mounted loitering drones are concerned, they have a V-shaped tail, a foldable main wing, and a small body. The launching vehicle appears to be a light tactical vehicle at face value.
The CCTV report stated that this vehicle would be able to adapt to a variety of terrains. However, the report did not give details about the vehicle and the technologies that have been or would be integrated into it.
In the 2020 testing, the China Academy of Electronics and Information Technology, under the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, used a 6×6 version of the Dongfeng Mengshi light tactical vehicle with a whopping 48 launch tubes mounted on the vehicle.
However, drone swarm capabilities are being explored, integrated, and mastered across the world for the sole purpose of overwhelming the enemy.
New Light-vehicle mounting carrier Swarm weapon system with up to 18 loitering munitions in ??Zhuhai Airshow.
The system is allegedly low-cost and modular. It can perform reconnaissance, area control, precision strike, cluster strike and damage assessment missions pic.twitter.com/ryAI025eqZ
— Jesus Roman (@jesusfroman) November 2, 2022
In October, another CCTV video report demonstrated how the PLA Air Force planned to use manned-unmanned teaming and its swarm capabilities. As per the report, the H-6K Bomber launched four LJ-1 drones designed to be used as aerial targets. Speculations are also rife that Beijing intends to integrate its stealth J-20 fighter plane with unmanned drones.
The US army also simulated an attack by swarms of quadcopter drones in a training exercise in September 2022. At the time, the US military’s National Training Centre said, “drones will be as important in the first battle of the next war as artillery is today.”
A swarm of small explosive-laden drones could present a massive threat across an entire battlefield area, and China has been aggressively developing the capability, per various media reports.
After the successful use of kamikaze drones and loitering munitions in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the technology has become all the more desirable for future potential combatants.