MILAN — Taiwan is trying to accelerate the development and production of military drones and countermeasures by expanding two national defense programs and focusing on autonomous swarms.
Taiwan’s air defense identification zone has over the last year been subject to drone intrusions carried out by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Since the PLA began flying drones within the area last September, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry recorded one flight in April and two in May.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., that tracks these developments, the PLA might begin conducting these unmanned flights more often over the next two years, along with piloted aircraft. China considers Taiwan a rogue province, and has threatened to take it back by force.
Amid this ongoing threat, Taiwanese defense officials have pointed to their country’s underdeveloped drone capabilities. Taipei has attempted to tackle this gap by creating two national drone programs focused on different capabilities.
“The first is the Drone National Team and focuses on building and producing a variety of military drones, with nine private companies included thus far in the program. The second, the Drone Defense National Team, centers around counter-drone systems, and its sole prime contractor is Tron Future,” Yu-Jiu Wang, the CEO of the Taiwan-based firm, told Defense News.
During the IDEX arms fair held in the United Arab Emirates in February, Tron Future said its aim was to produce 100 anti-drone radars in 2023 due to an increased demand. It’s unclear if the company reached this objective.
The executive said three other private companies are qualified as subcontractors to supply counter-drone equipment to Tron Future for system integration, and that the manufacturer also provides radars, jammers and sensors to the Drone Defense program for its own assembly.
Taiwan ultimately wants to amass about 3,200 military UAVs of different types by June 2024 under the Drone National Team, the more offensive-oriented program, Reuters reported.
Yu-Jiu decline to comment on the feasibility of this goal, but stated the project is expected to last at least five years, and that the drones’ specifications are regularly assessed and upgraded based on the latest trial results.
“Taiwan is preparing to have some of the world’s most comprehensive drone-defense capabilities in all major military and civilian infrastructure within the next two years,” Yu-Jiu said. “This is a race of technologies, so the requirements are constantly being enhanced.”
Any countermeasures must be able to neutralize drone swarms, Yu-Jiu added, by using sophisticated sensors, artificial intelligence and distributed control systems.
“Autonomous swarm soft-kill [non-kinetic] countermeasures are starting to be deployed later this year [in Taiwan], and autonomous swarm hard-kill ones are currently under development,” he said.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.