US drone use in South China Sea raises risk of 'friction and misjudgment', says Chinese analyst

The US spy drone MQ-4C Triton has become the country's „main” close surveillance aircraft. South China SeaAccording to data compiled by a Beijing-based think tank.

But Hu Bo, director of the South China Sea Strategic Situation Studies Initiative (SCSPI), warned in a panel discussion on the report that the increased use of drones increased the risk of „friction and misjudgment”.

„Since October last year, the MQ-4C has completely replaced the MP-3E… So, at least in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, the generation upgrade is complete,” Hu said. Military operations in disputed waters.

„After the MQ-4C Triton's second operational deployment in Guam last September, the model has become a key force in the United States' close surveillance of China,” the report said.

The MQ-4C Triton, manufactured by Virginia-based Northrop Grumman, is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle.

With the frequent use of unmanned systems, China's „counter-espionage” operations now take place around the clock, as the drones are usually controlled by US-based personnel and take place during US daylight hours – which means midnight in China.

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This could increase the potential for conflict between the US and Chinese air forces, said Hu, who is also director of the Center for Maritime Strategic Studies at Peking University.

He added that the use of unmanned systems in joint missions with allies such as Japan and Australia is „crucial”.

„The biggest problem with using unmanned systems for surveillance is that it can lead to friction and misjudgment on both sides, because first, the operation of the U.S. military's unmanned systems is conducted from thousands of miles away,” Hu told the panel on Friday. Discussion.

„And it relies on radio waves, and the speed of unmanned platforms, especially aircraft, is so fast that the control of drones is not as precise as the control of pilots in aircraft.”


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He also warned that drones operated from the other side of the world could be subject to radio interference, and highlighted the risk of a drone colliding with a crewed aircraft – which would prove „much more complicated” than one involving two UAVs.

He also warned of the risk of an unmanned aircraft colliding with a manned aircraft, a scenario that could prove „much more complex” than an incident involving two UAVs.

Other group surveillance aircraft, including the B-8A and RC-135, are also used for US surveillance missions over the South China Sea.

The report found about 1,000 U.S. surveillance aircraft tracked in the South China Sea last year — about the same as the year before.

About a tenth of these flights were „closed to the airspace of mainland China and southern Hainan Island” – most of them coming within 30 nautical miles of the Chinese territorial sea base.

„The Pentagon has complained that the People's Liberation Army's intercepts are becoming increasingly dangerous or unprofessional, but the US has not said where these intercepts occurred. In fact, most of the intercepts occurred close to China's airspace…so the Chinese must take action,” Hu said.

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But after Presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden met in San Francisco, the US Air Force has exercised „a certain amount of restraint” by keeping its distance from the Chinese base since November.

Lei Xiaolu, deputy director of SCSPI, said in the panel discussion, “Existing codes for unplanned encounters at sea and air do not apply to unmanned aircraft. [military] Ships and Airplanes.”

With these legal loopholes still unclosed, China and the US should strengthen ties before an accident occurs, he said.

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