To strengthen its defence capabilities and address a significant technology gap with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan has launched an ambitious program aimed at enhancing its drone technology. This initiative is characterized by a multifaceted strategy that involves collaboration with international partners, utilizing domestic expertise, and encouraging private companies to develop and manufacture advanced military drones.
Taiwan’s current drone fleet, numbering in the hundreds, consists of four distinct types of unmanned aircraft. In contrast, the PRC boasts an extensive arsenal of tens of thousands of drones, encompassing over 50 different types. These Chinese drones range from small quadcopters utilized by ground troops to sophisticated, jet-powered, long-range surveillance aircraft.
Amidst the backdrop of the Chinese Communist Party’s territorial claims over Taiwan and the constant threat of forceful annexation, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen introduced a strategic plan in 2022 aimed at significantly enhancing the island’s drone capabilities. The initiative, designed to bolster Taiwan’s self-defence capabilities, is characterized by collaboration between domestic commercial drone manufacturers, aviation and aerospace firms, and substantial support from the Taiwan military.
The overarching objective of the plan, as outlined in government documents, is the production of more than 3,200 military drones by mid-2024. This ambitious goal encompasses a diverse range of drones, varying in size from mini-aircraft weighing less than 2 kilograms to larger surveillance drones boasting a range of 150 kilometres. To achieve this, private companies are actively engaged in research and development efforts, fostering innovation and expertise from the private sector.
The commitment to advancing drone capabilities was prominently showcased at the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE) in mid-September 2023. Numerous local drone companies participated, highlighting their technological advancements. Thunder Tiger Group, for instance, presented concepts for remotely piloted surveillance helicopters designed for both ship- and land-based operations, featuring an impressive range of 400 kilometres. Another notable demonstration came from Geosat, which showcased a counter-drone system developed in collaboration with Fortunio Japan.
This initiative not only underscores Taiwan’s determination to fortify its defence capabilities but also emphasizes the crucial role of technological innovation and collaboration between the public and private sectors. In the face of geopolitical challenges, Taiwan’s focus on advancing drone technology serves as a proactive measure to enhance its security posture and respond effectively to evolving threats.
Ukraine’s successful use of drones against invading Russian forces has garnered attention, with experts like David Hambling, author of “Swarm Troopers: How Small Drones Will Conquer the World,” highlighting its potential impact on Taiwan’s drone initiative. According to Hambling, Taiwan’s efforts not only represent a significant step in building a robust drone industry for military and civil applications but could also serve as a crucial political asset. He notes that a native drone industry would keep money spent on these drones within the country, contributing to the local economy.