After Swarm drones, China is now developing a “mini aircraft carrier” to train the PLA navy to counter the drone threat

After showcasing drone swarm technology, China has now developed a naval platform to train its forces to defend against threats from drone swarms. The drone swarm is a concept of deploying a group of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in hostile airspace.

The idea is to confuse enemy radar, thus allowing drones to successfully conduct reconnaissance or other tactical support missions.

Previously, as EurAsian Times reported, China conducted a test involving a swarm of ammunition or suicide drones, deployed from tubular launchers.

The Chinese Academy of Electronics and Information Technology, a subsidiary of state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, conducted a massive drone swarm experiment in June 2017, involving nearly 120 drones. He later demonstrated his prowess with nearly 200 fixed-wing drones.

It is relevant to mention that warships are particularly vulnerable to attacks from drone swarms. In 2019, a number of US Navy destroyers were overrun by drones for several nights, Popular Mechanics previously reported. Even in April of this year, the US Navy was unable to identify these drones or their operators.

On their own, drone swarms are known for their inherent ability to confuse and overwhelm an opponent’s defenses. This makes it very difficult for the adversary to prioritize threats and allocate their own resources effectively.

In addition, a swarm of networked drones offers great flexibility to its operator, as a single drone is not responsible for conducting the different sets of missions. Instead, the task is distributed among the entire cluster of these drones.

The Chinese catamaran when it was launched in May 2021. (via Twitter)

These capabilities are also valid in maritime conflict scenarios. A drone swarm is easily able to launch a series of attacks on multiple ships and that too from different vectors at once.

A drone with a relatively smaller warhead can easily kill by attacking any of a ship’s key systems, such as its radars or communications networks. This disrupts the combat utility of the ships and thus makes them more vulnerable to follow-up attacks.

China’s mothership

To counter these threats, China devised a different plan. According to reports, China has built some sort of “mini” aircraft carrier capable of launching and recovering drones. Images of this catamaran were also shared at the Zhuhai Airshow which ended on October 3.

A catamaran is a vessel that has twin hulls placed parallel to each other. The Chinese ship has been described as a platform capable of “mimicking” enemy electronic systems during training exercises.

The 80m long and 35m wide ship will be able to simulate hostile drone swarms and other threats such as high volume anti-ship missile strikes and electronic warfare attacks. Photographs of the ship began to circulate on social media earlier this week. Reports suggest this drone swarm mothership was launched in May of this year.

The photographs show a cartoon shark painted on the outer side of the ship’s twin hull. This made the ship very similar to the model displayed in Zhuhai. The state-run China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) is believed to be involved in the development of the vessel.

From the photographs it is very clear how the ship will be used in maritime exercises. To conduct a realistic drone swarm training exercise, it will be necessary to release one group of drones at a time.

Chinese catamaran
A miniature model of the Chinese catamaran on display at the Zhuhai Air Show 2021. (via Twitter)

Rotary-wing drones will also be equipped with electronic warfare equipment to conduct electronic attacks. All of these steps can in turn provide an inexpensive way to simulate swarms and other aerial threats, and that too over a large area.

A large open deck is present at the front and aft of the ship’s superstructure. This could accommodate additional equipment such as catapults or static launchers for fixed-wing drones, The War Zone reported.

Swarm of drones
A swarm of drones is launched from a ship. (Representative image)

Small drone carriers that operate in coordination with larger and more extensive drone surface action groups are believed to be of great use in disrupting enemy maritime operations, both at sea and in the airs during a conflict situation in real time.

A ship like this can drop drones on land or in the air, creating chaos in enemy air defenses. This would allow more traditional abilities to come into play.

At the same time, the possibility that this ship is a stepping stone to real operational capability cannot be ignored. In recent years, China has made huge strides in developing drone swarm capabilities.

Nevertheless, this “mini aircraft carrier” shows China’s commitment to strengthen its naval capabilities to counter the various threats it faces.

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