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China developing advanced tactics for thousand-strong drone swarms: Kosovar military officer

Best defense against swarming drones is to build good trenches, officer says

Drone swarm soaring through the sky (Twitter, Dronesco photo)

Drone swarm soaring through the sky (Twitter, Dronesco photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese military planners are developing tactics for deploying thousands of drone swarms to gain the asymmetric advantages the technology offers, says Ali Haxhimustafa, an officer in Kosovo’s Security Force.

In a Policy People Podcast episode released on Monday (Sept. 13), Haxhimustafa, a Kosovo army major and commander at the countries’ defense academy, discussed the rapid rise of military drones and how they are disrupting battlefields across Eurasia.

The episode comes after recent news that China’s fleet of military drones is growing rapidly, with some being spotted near Japan in late August, triggering Tokyo to scramble fighters to investigate their activity.

Chinese systems can now coordinate over one thousand flying devices to coordinate autonomously and synchronize movements as a whole, with each unit costing as little as US$1,500 (NT$41,520), according to reports.

Haxhimustafa says drones are very difficult to defend against, especially when they swarm, likening them to a flock of hundreds of birds that move in sync together across the sky.

“If you deploy a swarm of drones, thousands of them, you can destroy 90% of them,” he said. “But if only 10% penetrate the airspace, they can do a lot of damage… and change the course of the war,” Ali added.

“The Chinese military is currently developing this concept,” he says.

He notes a famous example from 2019 of a drone swarm that flew completely undetected through Saudi Arabia’s patriot aerial defense system — the most expensive in the world — and destroyed whole oil fields.

Haxhimustafa recalled how surprised he was at the sophistication of cheap Turkish-made drones while visiting a military expo in Istanbul several years ago. The Turks then gave these same gadgets to Azerbaijan, which won them the war against Armenia last year.

Haxhimustafa, who has vast experience leading teams in training exercises with drones and other tech, says there are very few ways for infantry to protect themselves against attacks from drone swarms. It is similar to the helplessness someone feels when running from an angry swarm of bees — there are few places to hide.

“You can go back to back basics and build good trenches… and try to camouflage yourself,” he says.

He says drones are cheap, which makes them relatively disposable, which allows military planners to get creative in how they use them.

Haxhimustafa explains the deceptive tactics inherent to swarms. He says sending in a first wave of unarmed drones followed by a second loaded up with missiles is the optimal tactic.

“The enemy air force will launch missiles to bring them down as they come into view,” he says.

“So you’d wait for them to spend their ammunition, before sending in the second wave to deliver the real payload,” he said.