China's air force said it deployed an armed drone to multinational anti-terrorism drills on Tuesday, underscoring the country's rapid progress in developing unmanned aerial vehicles.
The drone, which wasn't identified by type, carried out a successful mission in which it destroyed a mock enemy command vehicle with a missile, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted air force spokesman Shen Jinke as saying.
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Shen said the drone's ability to monitor, identify and destroy objects below in real time makes it an important tool in fighting terrorists. China says radicals fighting Chinese rule in the vast northwestern region of Xinjiang have used illicit border crossings and desert encampments that could be monitored from above.
Chinese aerospace firms have developed dozens of drones, known also as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Many have appeared at air shows and military parades, including some that bear an uncanny resemblance to the Predator, Global Hawk and Reaper models used with deadly effect by the U.S. Air Force and the CIA.
Analysts say that although China still trails the U.S. and Israel, the industry leaders, its technology is maturing rapidly and is on the cusp of widespread use for surveillance and combat strikes.
Tuesday's mock attack was part of this week's "Peace Mission-2014" drills involving more than 7,000 personnel from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In all, 70 aircraft of 19 different types, both manned and unmanned, are taking part in the exercises, being held at Zhurihe, China's largest and most modern training base, located in the vast grasslands of Inner Mongolia.
While Beijing officially eschews military alliances, it has conducted a series of drills with Russian forces, sometimes under the auspices of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, a Central Asian grouping that is dominated by China and Russia and aims to challenge U.S. influence in Asia.
Several SCO nations border on Afghanistan and Pakistan and face threats from radical Islamic insurgents, providing the impetus for joint anti-terrorism training.