The Drone Gap: China Military Outmatches Taiwan

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the drone gap china military outmatches taiwan

China’s People Liberation Army has an arsenal of more than 50 different drone types running into the tens of thousands at its disposal, while Taiwan just has four types. The Chinese drones range from jet-powered, long range surveillance aircraft to small quadcopters deployed by ground troops. 

In March 2023, Taiwan’s National Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology unveiled eight types of locally developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These new hardware are well-equipped with either combat or surveillance capabilities. Eric Chi, director of the institute’s Aeronautical Systems Research Division, said the devices were designed for use by various branches of Taiwan’s military. He shared that the Taiwanese military has been actively building asymmetric warfare capabilities in response to the new global war trends. 

In May, a senior Taiwanese defense official said the U.S would help the island state to acquire the advanced data link and radio system – NATO’s Link 22 tactical communications system. Taiwan, as per various reports, is also set to deliver a powerful MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones in 2025 after the U.S. State Department approved a $600 Million deal three years ago. 

Chi Le-yei, Taipei-based military commentator, said Link 22 will enable Taiwan to operate the MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones to be provided by the United States. “The U.S sale of four MQ-9Bs to Taiwan and its acquisition of Link 22 for support could be seen as a part of the U.S. integrated deterrence strategy in light of the increasing risk of military conflict between Taiwan and the mainland.” 

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To tackle China’s defense, Taiwan has implemented the Drone National Team program. Its recruiting commercial drone makers, aviation and aerospace firms in a joint effort with the military to fast-track the building of a self-sufficient drone supply chain. 

Max Lo, the coordinator of the drone effort who is also an aerospace entrepreneur, said they need to catch up to China with thousands of drones. “We are trying our best to develop drones with commercial specifications for military use. We hope to quickly build up our capacity based on our existing technology so that we can be like Ukraine.” Taiwan aims to build more than 3,200 military drones, including mini-drones that weigh less than two kilograms as well as larger surveillance craft with a range of 150 kilometers, by mid-2024. 

Furthermore the Taiwanese government, for the first time, will enlist private companies in the R&D phase of a weapons program. Thunder Tiger Group is developing drones for Taiwan’s military. It includes pilotless ship- or land-based surveillance helicopters with four-meter-long rotors that have a range of 400 kilometers and can stay airborne for up to six hours.

Taiwan attributed its decision to build the country’s defense to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It’s also due to the escalating military rivalry in Asia.

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