Taiwan’s Chien Hsiang loitering drone was designed to destroy enemy radar and UAVs

    Taiwan’s domestically produced drone technology, developed by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), which develops military technology, was displayed to the public shortly after the conclusion of China’s annual air show at Zhuhai, as debates intensify over the likelihood of a Chinese invasion of its tiny island nation sibling, exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine.

    The Taiwanese-made anti-radiation UAV has a maximum flight time of five hours and can strike targets up to 621 miles (1,000 km) distant, according to Taiwan’s Aeronautical Systems Research Division. It can monitor and attack foreign enemy units emitting radar signals, whether in flight or not, as well as electromagnetic waves if they are part of their internal mechanisms or offensive systems. Though they cannot fly as far as their American counterparts, they were developed with a specific purpose in mind: destroy Chinese radar and UAVs. Their range allows them to support strikes along China’s southeastern coast, where megacities are located.

    A single mobile delivery vehicle can launch up to 12 Chien Hsiangs at the same time. Taiwan, as its technological ambitions suggest, is likely to try to deploy as many of these UAVs as possible. Further R&D is projected to result in the construction of an offensive-purpose drone, as well as a decoy system to safeguard crucial defence systems.

    Taiwan’s ‘suicide drone’ made its debut at the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition in 2017. It can be used in combination with other drones acting as decoys or loitering to successively target enemy units. The Chien Hsiang is comparable to Nazi Germany’s V-2 rocket or the Me-163 rocket-propelled bomber- interceptor known as the ‘Komet.’

    Although its functions appear to be specialised, the unit is essentially a multi-system and multi-purpose machine. If Taiwan and China were at war (presumably because China invades or prompts preemptive action, such as a missile strike), Taiwan’s focus would be on defensive measures, and its defensive instruments would reflect a cognitive relationship with the island’s geopolitical profile.


    The drone’s innovation lies in its ability to continue functioning while hanging in the air without a connection. When operational again, the unit can resume attacking its prey. The missile zeroes in on its target and then heads straight for it at a rate of 600 kilometres per hour (372 miles per hour).

    Theoretically, the drones may create a barrier if hundreds or thousands of individuals congregate in preparation of an invasion or invasion support force. Its limited range and purpose complement the Taiwan Strait’s tiny scale surroundings. These loitering weapons function as both an attacking and defensive deterrent. Hundreds of imagined drones crashing onto China’s coastal megacities will undoubtedly result in catastrophic casualties and could therefore serve as a significant deterrence.

    More drones?

    States’ defence strategies and doctrines will be increasingly influenced by unmanned combat systems. The majority of nations will also eventually seek to acquire drones, including armed drones, for a variety of reasons. Enhanced digital weapons systems and capabilities may help to preserve a balance of force and power between states and within regions such as the Middle East and, similarly, the Indo-Pacific, where discrepancies in nuclear weapons complicate the security environment and interstate relations.

    Considering the putative promise that the future of human warfare will involve a growing number of unmanned conflicts and battles, the ongoing transitions in the strength of digital weapons could contribute to the maintenance of a stable peace. On the other side, Taiwan’s continued development and manufacture of unmanned systems has the potential to create a security conundrum, ultimately bringing both China and Taiwan and presumably other countries, including the United States, closer to war.

    Therefore, Taiwan’s acquisition of more loitering munitions could be a double-edged sword that contributes to Taiwan’s unease if China perceives a slight shift in the power distribution or balance of power between the two countries. This begs the question of whether Taiwan should risk aggravating existing security issues by placing additional orders. Taiwan will likely continue to increase its manufacturing of units as the need to prepare for a hypothetical invasion by China grows.

    US technological ambitions and achievements in military weapons development in particular fuel the techno race and efforts to establish techno dominance in the military domain. Taiwan also benefits from the art of reengineering foreign military technology with aid, in the same way that China replicates American drone technology. The parallels between the Chinese MD-22, Teng Yun, and the American MQ-9 Reaper are readily apparent. It also draws inspiration from the futuristic designs of World War II Japanese and Nazi wonder weapons.

    The Russian war in Ukraine has produced a testing ground for new drones in new environments. There are indications that the lessons learned in Ukraine have already influenced new drone orders, research and development, and trade agreements. Iran has supplied Russia with weaponry and UAVs, which Russia has utilised with catastrophic and terrifying results on the battlefield.

    Ukraine has deployed similarly lethal armed drones against both soldiers and civilians. The Bayraktar TB2 is affordable, simple to make and acquire, and straightforward to run. Its laser-guided bombs would be destructive in the context of near urban combat operations and civilian environments where modern life and conflict are attempting to cohabit.

    Small and lightweight laser-guided bombs and missiles impacting in downtown Taipei would yield serious military, economic, and political repercussions. Hundreds or thousands of such ‘kamikaze drones,’ similar to Imperial Japan’s Yokosuka MXY- 7 Ohka (Cherry Blossom or ‘Baka Bomb’) or a more advanced version of Hitler’s V1 rocket with room for a pilot, might successfully interdict or decimate an invading Chinese force.

    Taiwan’s loitering UAVs can be used for tactical and strategic preemptive strikes against China’s crucial ground-based early warning radar and air-defense systems. While it is designed with the defensive imperative in mind, its applications expand beyond defensive purposes and demands.

    This might be concerning to China if Taiwan adopts a defence strategy that incorporates the assemblage of hundreds of loitering weapons in the skies that can be deployed as attack aircraft suspended in flight. The notion is consistent with that of an aircraft carrier, where aircraft wait on the flight deck or in bays below. A considerable number of loitering munitions would function as a continuous, dense, and quick-response defence screen.

    Through this description, the conceptual applications of the ‘Rising Sword’ become an airborne, suspended, and ‘unsinkable’ aircraft carrier in the skies. Taiwan can take advantage of their tiny and easily deployable size by moving them across the strategic waterway and stationing them on assets such as the Kinmen and Matsu islands, Kinmen County, and Lienchiang County.

    The location of these islands directly opposite China’s massive cities, Xiamen and Fuzhou, from the perspective of China’s national security, endangers its entire southeastern as well as eastern flank, threatening unrestricted movement from the East China Sea to either the South China Sea or the Philippine Sea and wider Pacific Ocean, or even restricting the movement of Chinese maritime assets between the Yellow and East China seas.

    China is unlikely to recognise Taiwan’s capability to militarily invade mainland China, it will need to adapt and integrate this threat to its ground-based early warning radar units, air-defence systems, and densely populated coastal areas.

    Dr. Scott N. Romaniuk is a visiting fellow at the International Centre for Policing and Security, University of South Wales, U.K., and a non-resident expert at the Taiwan Center for Security Studies.

    Tobias Burgers is an assistant professor in the faculty of Social Studies at Fulbright University, Vietnam, and a CCRC fellow at the Cyber Civilization Research Center at Keio University.

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