PLA drone brigade brushes up skills in Xinjiang ‘war game’

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Members of the PLA drone brigade are former pilots with the air force. Photo: PLA Daily

The first drone brigade of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has just wrapped up a missile drill last week in northwestern China.

The night drill is believed to be a first for the three-year-old brigade, which involved miniaturized missiles, Wing Loong drones, plus highly maneuverable Yunying stealth drones, which appeared at the Dubai Airshow earlier this month.

Laser-guided missiles fired from these drones are intended for precise decapitation strikes.

Chinese news portal Sina says in a separate report that a Yunying drone can carry up to six missiles on its wings, which makes it much easier to detect but enables it to immediately attack any targets it finds.

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A PLA pilot steers a drone from a console. Photo: PLA Daily

The operators of the attack drones were selected from veteran pilots with up to 30 years’ experience. They must sit for computer game-like tests and undergo a background check before being briefed on the classified specifications of the Yunying drone series, PLA Daily reported Sunday.

The drill was rumoured to have taken place in central Xinjiang.

The operators steer drones from gamepad-like consoles with CCTV livestream and hit a red button to fire missiles after inputting flight parameters and the coordinates of a target, in a system deeply integrated with China’s indigenous BeiDou positioning network.

It’s the first time that Chinese state media has confirmed details about its drone unit.

Observers believe that, other than relying on the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China, developer of the ace Yunying strike drones, the Chinese military has also drawn talent from private manufacturers such as the Shenzhen-based DJI, a firm that enjoys a stranglehold on drone manufacturing and software engineering.

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