DSA 2016 Kuala Lumpur is one of Asia’s leading arms shows, as arms manufacturers from around the world congregate in Kuala Lumpur to pitch their weapons to Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries. In spite of territorial tensions over the South China Sea, China has given its weapons makers carte blanche to offer advanced systems to Southeast Asian countries. Chinese defense contractors, in addition to pitching the usual array of frigates, fighter jets, anti-ship missile and air defense radars, have taken the leap of offering new unmanned systems that are still undergoing testing by, or have just entered service with the Chinese military.
Poly Technologies, a subsidiary of China Poly Group Corporation, is selling a high speed trimaran unmanned surface vessel (USV), the High Speed Intercept Boat, to Southeast Asian coast guards and navies. The unnamed boat is 13 meters long, 4 meters across and has a draft of 60 centimeters, its twin 850 hp engines propel it to a top speed of 80 knots at a range of 200 nautical miles, can set its own course and chase targets, and comes with an advanced electro-optical camera and high bandwidth datalinks. Program manager Zhu Yingzi mentioned that a HSIB prototype is already undergoing testing in the PLAN, performing missions that include base patrol. The HSIB has an armament option of two 7.62mm light machine guns, or one heavy 12.7mm machine gun turret (the HSIB) is big enough to also carry small guided missiles). The PLAN’s official interest in USV shows that future Chinese robot boats would likely include USV swarming enemy forces and working with other unmanned and manned platforms in the littoral environment (as shown in Chinese defense contractor materials), anti-submarine warfare, minehunting and reconnaissance missions. And China is quite happy to sell its future USVs to make friends and influence people in Asia.
The CH-901 small UCAV/loitering munitions is bringing aerial firepower down to the infantry squad level. Likely designed and built by China Aerospace Corporation (CASC), who also build the CH-4 UCAVs used by the Iraqi military against ISIS, the 9kg CH-901 is man portable UAV similar to the American Switchblade small UAV; both portable UAVs have onboard explosive warheads. Its quiet electric motor pushes the CH-901 up to speeds of 150kmh, with a 15km radius from its ground controller, for up to two hours. If its operator finds an interesting enemy target, like a tank, infantry squad or missile launcher, with the 2km range camera, he can order the CH-901 to crash into the enemy and detonate the warhead. Poly Group representatives note that select PLA units have already been equipped with the CH-901 for several years.
The CH-901 would serve a wide range of uses for both the PLA and foreign customers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Instead of having to rely on air support or artillery fire that may be unavailable for whatever reason, small infantry units can mount sneak attacks on vital enemy infrastructure. Also, the CH-901 would be a powerful force multiplier for the average solider in urban combat, and a cheap weapon in counterinsurgency fights.
Moving to a more conventional weapons category, Indonesia has agreed to purchase two Type 730 Close In Weapons System to arm its KCR-60M missile boats. The PLAN already uses the Type 730, a seven barrel 30mm Gatling cannon, for close area defense of warships like the Type 052D destroyer, against enemy missiles and small boats. The Indonesia Navy has already been testing the Type 730 CIWS onboard one of its missile boats since last year. Given the need for an effective CIWS to have top notch radars and cameras to target missiles in just a couple seconds, Indonesia must have judged it to be competitive with Western systems that Indonesia already has. Taken in conjunction with previous Indonesian purchases of C-701 antiship missiles, Indonesia looks set to be a repeat customer for Chinese weapons, in spite of occasional maritime disputes.
China’s willingness to offer weapons already used by or even still in testing with its military is looking a look like a pivot by China to go beyond economic trade and aid when winning friends aboard. And in addition to the high profile categories like long range missiles and submarines, China also has the killer apps for the average grunt on the ground. If western nations like the U.S. won’t export personal infantry digital equipment and robots, China seems well positioned to fill that supply gap.
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