Taiwan unveils portable attack drone as China tensions rise


TAICHUNG: Taiwan unveiled its first portable attack drone on Tuesday (May 14), an unmanned aerial vehicle similar to a US model used in Ukraine’s fight against Russia, as China steps up military pressure on the island.

Taiwan’s 23.5 million people live under constant threat of an invasion by China, which claims the self-ruled democracy as part of its territory to be seized one day, by force if necessary.

Beijing’s sabre-rattling has intensified in recent years under President Xi Jinping, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has deepened fears in Taiwan that China might move similarly.

The military-run National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) on Tuesday showed off its new loitering munition drone, which is similar to the US-made Switchblade 300 currently used by Ukrainian soldiers.

The Taiwanese-made single-use drone, designed to be small enough to be carried in a backpack, can stay in the air for 15 minutes, according to NCSIST.

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A staff member explains an Albatross II UAV drone (Peer product: Turkey made Bayraktar TB2) at National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) in Taichung City, central Taiwan, Tuesday, March 14, 2023. CSIST unveiled part of its drone development project that includes the development of anti-radiation drones and loitering munitions Tuesday. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

“Because it is lightweight and portable, it is like a big grenade that can fly,” said Chi Li-pin, head of NCSIST’s Aeronautical Systems Research division.

“It is effective in attacking targets near our shores,” he added, noting its maximum flying distance is 10km.

Taiwan is also developing its next generation of “suicide” attack drones, Chi said, including larger versions that can be used in longer distance attacks.

Attack drones can hover in the air while carrying explosives before crashing into a target to eliminate it.

Tensions soared last year after Beijing launched major military exercises in response to a visit by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei, in what some experts saw as a rehearsal for an invasion of the island by China.

Allies have urged Taiwan to adopt an asymmetric “porcupine strategy” that would make it hard for China’s larger military to invade, an argument that has been bolstered by the stout defence that Ukraine’s much smaller forces have put up against Russia.

That strategy emphasises purchasing comparatively inexpensive and mobile weapon systems, and training civilians to fight.

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