Taiwan’s military is upping the ante in its adversarial relationship with mainland China — borrowing a technique used by the Japanese army during the Second World War, the island nation is turning to “kamikaze’ drones to defend and attack.
A new suicide drone appeared at the August 2019 edition of the biennial Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition in the island country’s capital, the National Interest reported.
The unmanned aerial vehicle bears a strong resemblance to the small, hand-launched drones that are popular with US forces. The other clearly draws inspiration from Israel’s Harpy anti-radar drone, the report said.
A suicide drone essentially is a small, inexpensive cruise missile, usually possessing some loitering capability. They might include a simple seeker head. Alternately, their operators remotely could steer them toward their targets.
Often based on commercial UAVs, suicide drones typically pack a small, grenade-size explosive warhead, the report said.
The Fire Cardinal drone, which first appeared at the Taipei trade show, is “an air-to-ground strike assault UAV,” according to the aviation-news website Alert 5, citing information from the show.
The twin-propeller Fire Cardinal is around four feet long, has a six-foot wingspan and weighs around 15 pounds. It includes an electro-optical and infrared sensor and selects its target using what Alert 5 described as an “intelligent object-detection system.”
Alert 5 did not speculate as to Fire Cardinal’s range, but it’s roughly the same size as the US Army’s hand-launched Puma surveillance drone. The propeller-driven Puma can range as far as 10 miles at an altitude of 500 feet and a maximum speed of around 50 mph.
A human operator controls a Puma via radio. It’s safe to assume the Fire Cardinal, with its own modest range and performance, features a similar control system. Ground troops in close proximity to enemy forces could lob many Fire Cardinals into the air in the hope of overwhelming the enemy’s short-range air defenses.
Taiwan’s other suicide drone targets the air-defenses themselves. The Chien Hsiang (Rising Sword) first appeared in 2017 at the Taipei trade show. It bears a striking resemblance to the eight-foot-long Israeli Harpy UAV. The Harpy packs a relatively powerful, 70-pound warhead and cruises as fast as 115 mph out to a distance of nearly 300 miles.
Taiwan Air Force’s Air Defense and Missile Command said it would spend US$2.5 billion developing the truck-launched Chien Hsiang through the early 2020s.
“The domestically produced anti-radiation UAV can detect and attack radar emitters on enemy vessels or electromagnetic wave sources in their weapon systems,” UAS Vision noted, citing Taiwanese media. “Their flight range is said to be able to cover radar stations along China’s southeastern coast.”
Taiwan is counting on drones to counter China’s expanding advantage in ships, planes and troops.
According to Taiwan News, one of the main targets the missiles are designed to destroy is the S-400 missile system, which China is acquiring from Russia, reported CNA. The NCSIST (National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology) says that mass production of the drones has begun, and it plans to produce 104 of them over the next six years.