has unveiled its inaugural drone carrier in response to heightened tensions and evolving geopolitical dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region. This marks a significant stride in its ambitious military modernisation efforts, reflecting its commitment to bolstering naval prowess. With a focus on enhancing maritime surveillance capabilities and asserting dominance in contested areas like the South China Sea, this strategic move aims to safeguard China’s regional interests, according to GlobalData, a data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s “The Global Naval Vessels and Surface Combatants Market Forecast 2024-2034” report reveals that China will be spending about $46.2 billion on procuring various naval vessels over the next 10 years. Out of which, 8.5% will be directed towards the procurement of amphibious vessels, which includes the drone carrier. This development underscores the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) intent to augment the application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to undertake various types of maritime operations.

Harsh Deshmukh, Aerospace & Defense Analyst at GlobalData, comments: The growing US assistance to Taiwan and escalating territorial disputes with its neighbours in the South China Sea have long been an irritant for Chinese policymakers. In response, China is advancing its naval capabilities with the introduction of dedicated drone carriers, following the deployment of fixed-wing aircraft as well as helicopters in recent years.”

As the role of UAVs in naval warfare grows, China’s drone carrier, which is approximately one-third the size of the recently launched Type-003 aircraft carrier (Fujian), might prove to be an important asset in terms of conducting long-range surveillance missions far away from the Chinese mainland. This will also help PLA save the lives of its personnel by avoiding the sending of manned missions into highly contested airspace.

Deshmukh concludes: “The vessel will also enhance China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, making it more challenging for its rivals to operate freely in disputed areas like the South China Sea. As China continues to enhance its blue water capabilities, the launch of this drone carrier before the fourth aircraft carrier (Type-004) shows China’s plan on diversifying its naval forces by inducting more UAVs into its naval fleet. This rapid militarization by China could become a cause of concern for many countries in the vicinity and could plunge the region into a new arms race.”


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