Chinese Warship ‘Shoots Down’ Low-Flying, Slow-Moving UAVs In Latest Drills As Tensions Mount In Red Sea

China recently conducted military drills to practice training against “low, slow, and small” aerial targets when Western destroyers deployed in the Middle East are grappling with and shooting down UAVs launched by regional militant organizations.

A destroyer detachment connected to the PLA Southern Theatre Command recently assembled a variety of warships, including a Type 055 large destroyer and a Type 052D destroyer, to form a group and carry out the first maritime exercise of the year.

The round-the-clock practice included combat-oriented special exercises, such as live-fire gun firing, formation maneuvering, and maritime replenishment, using some of the most recent scientific research accomplishments, the CCTV reported. 

The report specifically noted that the radar system of the Type 055 heavy destroyer Yan’an detected several waves of low-flying, slow-moving targets approaching as soon as they reached the assigned mission area.

According to the report, the warships engaged in tight coordination repositioned, created an air defense formation, and used close-range fire systems to bring down the targets.

Yan Zhenzhou, a crew member on board the Yan’an, said in the CCTV report, “Our exercise mainly focused on low, slow, and small aerial targets, particularly defense against targets flying close to the sea surface.”

Zhu Chentian, another crew member on board the large destroyer, indicated that the warship group had to rely on its surveillance equipment to spot incoming low, slow, and small aerial targets, analyze the situation, and handle emergencies. The exercise was confrontational and lacked a predetermined schedule or scenario.

“For the next step, we will boost cooperation with relevant research teams and further test the warship group’s joint operational capability while building realistic combat scenarios,” Zhu stated.

The Global Times report quoted an anonymous Chinese military expert to emphasize that the drills come when such attacks are unfolding in global conflicts around the world, without making a direct reference to any particular war zone.

The Chinese military expert reportedly stated that low, slow, and small aircraft—often in the form of drones and loitering munitions—have been employed extensively in recent international wars, making them some of the most deadly new threats in modern combat.  

He further explained that these aircraft are challenging for conventional radars to detect due to their small size, slow speed, and low altitude. The expert added that the clutter and noise of the sea make it even more challenging to identify these aircraft. According to the expert, the exercise demonstrated that PLA Navy warships can locate, track, and intercept low, sluggish, and small targets.

The drills undertaken by the PLA Navy come when Western warships and aircraft carriers are working round the clock to destroy hostile aerial targets fired mainly by the Houthi rebels. The Houthis have opposed the collaboration and assistance provided to Israel in its offensive against the Hamas group in the Gaza Strip by the Western forces and cite these as a reason for its recurrent attacks.

Earlier this week, the US Central Command announced that the US and UK naval forces shot down 18 drones and three missiles that were allegedly fired by Yemen-based Houthis and were headed towards the Red Sea. USS Laboon (DDg-58), USS Gravely (DDG-107), USS Mason (DDg-87), and F/A-18s from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), and the British HMS Diamond (D34) together thwarted the attacks.

These drone attacks that began in mid-October, ten days after the Hamas attack on Israel, have only intensified by the day. To combat the threat, the United States has been trying to cobble up an international coalition of naval forces, with about 20 countries joining the effort and dispatching their warships to the region. 

The use of drones on battlefields worldwide has drawn attention to asymmetric combat tactics where a militarily inferior force uses these expendable weapons to carry out attacks on strategic assets while exhausting air defenses. China’s latest drills indicate that it is constantly working on its combat capability and preparing for a combat scenario where a military force might use such tactics.

Moreover, these drills come when China has significantly upped the ante in the Taiwan Strait by intensifying its military activity in the region ahead of Taiwan’s much-anticipated and keenly watched national election.

China Says It Will Smash Taiwanese Separatism

The Chinese defense ministry said on January 12 that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China is always on high alert and will take all necessary measures to “smash” any separatist scheme aimed at achieving “Taiwan independence.”

A spokesman for the defense ministry, Zhang Xiaogang, responded to questions from the media about Taiwan’s planned acquisition of additional aircraft from the United States and its recent upgrade of its fighter jets, saying that the PLA will “resolutely” defend China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China has always maintained that it will use force to “reunify” with Taiwan, a democratically controlled island that is set to hold presidential elections on January 13. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has allegedly been trying to influence the elections in the self-ruled island state to see the exit of the pro-democracy Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

PLAN Nanchang Type 055 Destroyer (via Platform X)

The comments made by the Chinese Defense Ministry came just a day before the tightly contested three-way Presidential elections. The PLA has recently intensified military activity in the region, sending fighter jets, warships, and even spy balloons to intimidate the island’s incumbent administration.

Not just that, China has also been accused of meddling in the Taiwanese election. According to Taiwan’s vice president, Lai Ching-te, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate, Chinese meddling is “the most serious ever.” He made this claim while leading opinion polls against his Kumomintang (KMT) opponent, Hou Yu-ih, the current mayor of New Taipei City, and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) chairman, Ko Wen-je.

He has charged Beijing with trying to sway elections by “military threats, economic coercion, cognitive warfare, and misinformation.” Lai believes it is clear that China is using the issue of “war and peace” as a pretext to interfere in Taiwan’s election and install a pro-Chinese government.

Since the DPP has won the previous two elections, many experts predict that Beijing will increase military pressure in the Taiwan Strait if the party can secure an unprecedented third consecutive term in office.

Beijing is adamant that the Democratic Progressive Party, which supports Taiwanese sovereignty and deeper ties with the United States, Europe, Japan, and other democratic powers, cannot win a third term in office. The election is being widely followed worldwide because of concerns that tensions over the results could lead to military brinkmanship between Beijing and Washington in the South China Sea.