At the moment, Ukraine’s small aerial drones have limited range and power, and most of them are either made in China or use Chinese components. By contrast, American-made surveillance drones, like Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, which are being used by nato forces in the Ukraine conflict, cost millions of dollars and are the size of manned aircraft, in part because they can stay in the air for more than a day. Even midsize drones can cost more than a million dollars. Neither is likely to be considered “attritable.” So, until American companies—or the government itself—are able to produce relatively inexpensive drones that can fly long distances, China will have the advantage in the air.
As Stacie Pettyjohn, the director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan think tank, told me, right now “it would be much easier for Chinese ships to spit out some of these small drones, or some of their ground forces to have them,” she said. “You would expect to see them saturate the battle space.” Those drones can then send back intelligence to the mainland, she said, where the Chinese military has long-range missiles that can reach Taiwan.
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