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Video: China unveils new drone carrier warship

China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) sailors stand before the first Type 075 class of amphibious assault ship, Sept. 25, 2019. (China's People's Liberation Army Navy/Released)
January 12, 2023

The Chinese military recently unveiled its design for a drone aircraft carrier. The new warship could serve as a key weapon in China’s arsenal as it seeks to challenge the U.S. for great control over the Indo-Pacific region.

The Chinese state-run China Central Television (CCTV) released footage of the new drone carrier in a Dec. 22 broadcast. A clip of the broadcast was shared on Twitter, showing a swarm of tandem-rotor drones lifting off the warship’s deck simultaneously.

China has been working towards a drone carrier ship for some time. 

In November of 2021, The Drive reported on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) launch of a different drone carrier ship. That previous ship featured a catamaran-style design.

In May of last year, Chinese media outlets covered the launch of an unmanned ship called the Zhu Hai Yun. According to the South China Morning Post, that ship could also carry dozens of drones, unmanned ships and submersible craft.

This latest footage of a group of drones lifting off of a warship, indicates that China is increasingly turning to unmanned systems to bolster its military strength.

The Chinese military has already showcased several advancements in drone swarm technology, such as a system to launch and coordinate attacks from a swarm of suicide drones, also known as loitering munitions.

In it’s latest annual assessment of China’s military, the Pentagon said China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “is exploring next-generation operational concepts for intelligentized warfare, such as attrition warfare by intelligent swarms, cross-domain mobile warfare, AI-based space confrontation, and cognitive control operations.” 

“The PLA also considers unmanned systems to be critical intelligentized technologies, and is pursuing greater autonomy for unmanned aerial, surface, and underwater vehicles to enable manned and unmanned hybrid formations, swarm attacks, optimized logistic support, and disaggregated [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance], among other capabilities,” the Pentagon report added.

The Chinese military strategy in the Indo-Pacific region is focused on the concept of anti-access, area denial (A2/AD). The strategy could enable China to seize key territory in the region while significantly delaying or outright blocking military intervention from outside forces, like the U.S.

The ability to deploy aerial drone swarms at sea could provide China with a relatively low-copst way to surveil and potentially attack opposing forces seeking to gain access to a maritime region like the Indo-Pacific.

China is not the only country that has displayed an interest in sea-based drone swarms. Iran also recently showcased the launch of a drone carrier warship.