Translation Introduction

Day after day, drones are at the forefront of wars, and are integrated into the military systems of many countries, led by the United States, which now sees drones as a decisive weapon in a possible confrontation with China. In the face of this, Beijing is working apace to develop its own anti-drone systems, some of which are unconventional systems capable of shooting down aircraft using lasers rather than conventional munitions, a breakthrough in military efforts to defend against drones.

Translation text

LW-30 laser defense system, a vehicle-mounted "lethal drone" weapon developed by the Chinese Sanjiang Aerospace Group (source: Military drones)

Drones continue to move toward the forefront of U.S. wars, emerging as a major spending priority and an optimal solution to almost all defense challenges, especially in a potential conflict with China.

According to David Ochmanek, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategic affairs and a researcher at the RAND Corporation, the networked drone squadrons proved crucial in a U.S. Air Force simulation of a potential conflict with China in the Taiwan Strait, hacking China's efforts to enforce no-access zones, thereby ensuring U.S. victory in such a battle. Brian Clark, a researcher at the Hudson Institute and former special assistant to the U.S. chief of naval operations, said drones are the only possible way to close the projected gap in U.S. missile production. No wonder China has begun to develop countermeasures.

Laser Defense

LW-30 laser defense system O/P 30KW, Vehicle-mounted “LSS drone killer” CASIC China .
Laser system is mainly used for critical field air defense, such as targeting UAVs, with a high strike efficiency, multi-target strike capability, which can fire multiple times in a short time.

— AERIAL WARRIOR (@zspcl) February 22, 2023

One of the highlights of last November's Zhuhai Air Show (the only global aviation and space trade fair sanctioned by the Chinese government, with support from Chinese aerospace industries) was the LW-30 laser defense system, a "lethal drone" weapon mounted on vehicles developed by the Chinese Sanjiang Aerospace Group. The weapon is an "improved" version of the weapon that debuted at the 30 show. The LW-2018 largely mimics the "silent killer" system produced by China's Poly Technologies and deployed to Saudi Arabia in September.

Sanjiang and China's state media say that the LW-30 has the capabilities to shoot down small drones located a few kilometers away, and that it takes only a few seconds after which the anti-drone system spins, fires (or rather its own rays) and then heads towards the next target. Using electrical energy to shoot down drones is much less expensive than physical munitions, with Sanjiang estimating that a single drone destruction mission using energy costs only about $1.75.

If these claims prove true, the Chinese company would have made a major breakthrough in overcoming an enduring engineering challenge: keeping laser fire fixed on a small, moving target long enough to destroy it. A spokesman for the company added that it is in the process of developing the 30-kilowatt LW-30 beam to reach greater power, thus reducing the time required to destroy its targets. (According to one Chinese military affairs website, a laser weapon can mount its laser beam on a target 25 kilometers away in six seconds to destroy it, as well as targets such as weapons guidance equipment.)

China's development of LW-30 and other anti-drone weapons builds on the growing interest in drone warfare and anti-drone systems featured in the People's Liberation Army military writings. For example, the 2020 Science of Military Strategy, an educational book on military theory published by the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, notes that "intelligent drone systems have become an inevitable and indispensable force on the battlefield [in the twenty-first century]," especially with countries like the United States, Israel, and Russia using them to make enormous gains on the ground.

Chinese media, in turn, have recently written about the crucial role of drones in the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan war, as well as in the Russian-Ukrainian war, which has been going on for more than a year. In both conflicts, air defenses have struggled to stop drones, which have been used as an alternative to conventional fighter jets for combat, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, a relatively less expensive but well-effective alternative.

Microwave radiation in the face of drone swarms

An article published last June in the People's Liberation Army daily PLA Daily acknowledged that advances in drone technology had strained conventional air defenses, making it very difficult to detect "low, slow and small" drones with radar, track them with guided munitions, and strike them with air or anti-aircraft weapons.

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) is a state-owned giant and the parent company of China's Sanjiang Aerospace Group. (Reuters)

The article also noted that what is needed to counter drones are three-dimensional, multi-domain networks, consisting of detection equipment and anti-drone weapons that enhance the range and speed of early warning and interception. More specifically, technologies such as network anti-aircraft weapons, electronic interference to jam navigation and communications, directed energy beams (i.e., laser weapons such as the LW-30), high-energy microwave weapons, and anti-drone systems stand out.

Chinese military-industrial enterprises are already working on this list. Most of these efforts are led by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), a state-owned giant, and the parent company of China's Sanjiang Aerospace Group. Several other entities have also played key roles in this regard, including China's Poly Technologies, China Electronics Technology Corporation (CETC), and the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP).

Together with the LW-30 laser weapon, the Zhuhai Air Show presented an anti-drone system produced by CASIC II Academy (one of CASIC's academies), a system that is the embodiment of the design philosophy of the "17D Network". The design is built according to the HQ-1AE short-range air defense system, which can guide four missiles to intercept four airborne targets simultaneously, within an inclined range of 5.20-<> kilometers. The second academy claims that its new system is effective against drones, fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as cruise missiles and tactical surface-to-air missiles.

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— Wolfgang Dressler (@dressler_w) July 30, 2017

The network also includes the QW-12 mobile anti-aircraft missile system and the ZR-1500 smart drone defense system, which can be equipped with nanomissiles, small missiles, suicide munitions and machine guns. The ZR-1500 sensors include an electro-optical radar and a low-flying detection radar that work in tandem. The brains of the system are the ZK-K20 ground-based anti-aircraft missile control system, which processes detection data and deploys appropriate weapons quickly. The system is also equipped with "soft" anti-path measures, such as interference and disinformation.

The arms race in the field of unmanned and anti-drone weapons therefore seems to be at its height these days. While drones thwart conventional defenses in conflicts such as the Ukraine war, and appear more and more in U.S. defense plans, the drone countermeasures showcased at the Zhuhai Air Show suggest that Beijing is also making its own preparations regarding this vital aspect of the future of warfare.


Translation: Karim Mohamed

This report is translated from Defense One and does not necessarily reflect Meydan's website.