A revolutionary change in the battlefield technology has virtually arrived with the advent of the armed drones era. And Beijing is making a killing out of it, both literally and figuratively. Reports say that China is selling its deadly Artificial Intelligence (AI)-backed ‘Blowfish’ drones to the war-torn Middle East as well as Central Asia and Africa. These unmanned aerial war machines are capable of launching deadly, fully autonomous strikes with their effective arsenal of mortar shells, grenade launchers and machine guns.
These drones are said to be “impossible to defend” and as such humans don’t stand a chance against these killer robots. As per Tony Walsh, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, University of NSW, “They (AI-backed combat drones) would be impossible to defend yourself against. Once the shooting starts, every human on the battlefield will be dead.”
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper recently revealed that the Chinese drones are designed in a way to decide for themselves who lives and who dies. He also told the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence conference, “The Chinese government is already exporting some of its most advanced military aerial drones to the Middle East.” He also revealed, “In addition, Chinese weapons manufacturers are selling drones advertised as capable of full autonomy, including the ability to conduct lethal, targeted strikes.”
Till now, the three major drone powers, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel, have used drones to target and kill terrorists. However, the US and Israel have restricted their exports in drones to unarmed reconnaissance drones.
With the entry of China in the drones market, this has changed. The dragon stands on the third position in terms of drone exporters behind only the US and Israel. However, it has focussed on combat drones. Between 2008-2017, China sold 88 drones to a total of at least 12 countries, across the Middle East and North Africa. Out of these 68 drones were lethal, combat drones. This is in sharp contrast to the US which sold 351 drones in the same time period, out of which only 62 were combat drones and also Israel, which sold 186 drones, out of which 56 were combat drones.
The purchasers of Chinese drones are included Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, the UAE, and Zambia. Pakistan is the largest customer of Chinese drones with a 25 per cent share, followed by Egypt and Myanmar, with 23 and 13 per cent shares respectively.
China has therefore already exposed the conflict-torn countries mentioned above to the lethality of combat drones. In addition to the UK, the US and Israel that have traditionally used armed drones, seven other countries- Iran, Azerbaijan, the UAE, as well as Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Turkey, have also used combat drones to kill suspected enemies. The last four countries have, in fact, used such drones to kill people on their own soil.
What has also helped China in its aggressive push to take a lead in the combat drones market is the reluctance of the US to supply its armed drones technology due to strict export regulations. The Gulf allies have been desirous to purchase the lethal MQ-9 Reaper, produced by General Atomics. China was able to pitch the Rainbow CH-4- a typical example of Chinese reverse engineering, as an alternative to the Reaper. Though the Chinese drones do not match the performance parameters of the US drones, a striking similarity with the original drones and a significantly lower cost, coupled with the reluctance of the US to supply armed drones, has helped the armed Chinese drones to pick up in a big way.
Now, China is all set to unleash the wrath of a fully autonomous battle technology as well. A state-controlled Chinese defence company is said to be in talks with the troubled countries of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for the sale of its AI-backed Blowfish A3 armed helicopter drone, along with control equipment and fully autonomous software, to these countries.
Beijing holds no qualms in exposing the volatile Middle East and other troubled nations to the lethality of the fully autonomous weapons. As stated earlier, these new-age weapons are going to be virtual killer machines and humans won’t stand a chance against these indefensible combat drones that China is all set to export. What makes these cold war robots that much more of an issue is that they are going to be deployed in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, countries that already have a miserable human rights track record. The dragon is, therefore, shaping up an extremely volatile region of the world towards a huge massacre and an absolute bloodbath.