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Inside the Ring: Here come the drones

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China is preparing its military to conduct warfare with offensive and defensive spying and attack drones, according to a Chinese colonel.

Sr. Col. Wu Guohui disclosed "secrets" about China's plans for unmanned aircraft conflict last week with the state-run People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

Col. Wu, an assistant professor at China's National Defense University and an air force special class aviator, said drones will become a "major force" in future air combat, according to the Oct. 17 report.

He stated that countering offensive and defensive unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations is becoming a new form of air warfare. The colonel said Chinese J-7 fighters recently shot down two encroaching, high-altitude reconnaissance drones flying at an altitude of about 59,000 feet. He did not elaborate.

The U.S. Air Force operates RQ-4 Global Hawk long-range reconnaissance drones that are known to be spying on China.

Chinese drone operations involve both preset flight patterns and remotely piloted drones, Col. Wu said.

"The latter mode is new, and it gives a UAV offensive and defensive capabilities, and it brings up the possibility of 'counter-UAV combat operations' — cutting, jamming, even implanting something to control its link," the People's Daily said.

Preparing for drone warfare is a priority for air combat, Col. Wu said.

The report stated that Iran's downing of a U.S. stealth RQ-170 drone in 2011 "showed clearly that Iran knows how to take over that UAV's control link" and land the aircraft.

Some U.S. officials suspect China assisted Iran with the capture of the RQ-170.

Col. Wu said drone warfare is shifting from purely reconnaissance missions to integrated reconnaissance and attack.

Last month, Chinese state television introduced China's "Rainbow" series of drone aircraft during a Beijing International Air Show.

"China's Rainbow series UAVs have become bigger and bigger in size, heavier and heavier in takeoff weight, and more and more complete in model and spectrum," China's CCTV said in a Sept. 28 report.

"In terms of application, China's UAVs have formed a relatively complete system, developing from various reconnaissance and surveillance functions to a reconnaissance-strike integrated function."

Shi Wen of the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, which developed the new drone, said Rainbow-3s and Rainbow 4s are equal to U.S. Predator UAVs.

The Rainbow-3A is fitted with two AR-1 anti-tank missiles.

China is building 11 bases for drones along its coastline and recently flew drones over the disputed Senkaku Islands. Japan has threatened to shoot down drones that fly over the small islets owned by Tokyo but claimed by China.

FROM KABUL TO TEHRAN?

Iranian state media this week reported that Tehran supplied Russia with a copy of a U.S. military drone, and a U.S. contractor revealed to Inside the Ring that the drone was likely stolen from a U.S. supply convoy in Afghanistan last year.

According to the contractor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the deal between Afghan smugglers and Iran's Qods Force, a special unit of the Revolutionary Guards, took place in the summer of 2012 in Afghanistan and was worth more than $1 million.

Iran's state-run Fars News agency reported Monday that the Iranian military supplied Russia with a copy of a U.S. ScanEagle drone that reportedly was captured and disassembled by Iran in 2012.

The ScanEagle is a small drone launched from the ground or by ship launchers that provides video images used in military operations.

Fars said the drone has been reverse engineered and that one of the remotely piloted aircraft was given to Moscow as a "gift." The transfer was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

An intelligence report from Afghanistan states that the drone sale between Afghan smugglers and an Iranian Qods force agent was completed in August 2012.

The report was taken from a convoy used to send military supplies to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan and sent by truck in its crate to western Farah Province and then across the border into Iran.

The drone was inspected by the Qods agent, who was identified as "Hashemi," in July 2012 in Gardez in Kunar Province. He was disappointed that the drone was not larger, the report said.

The deal was arranged by an Iranian identified as "engineer Latif" in Gazni Province. He had the drone shipped to Iran by truck, probably through a crossing point in Nimroz Province where Afghan police are known to cooperate with Iranian smugglers. The Iranian side of the border there is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which includes the Qods Force.

A Pentagon spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

Guard Corps Brig. Gen. Farzad Esmayeeli was quoted by Fars as saying — after a meeting in Tehran with visiting Russian Air Force Commander Lt. Gene. Viktor Bondarev — that "the drone built by the [Revolutionary Guards] is a symbol of the technical capabilities of the Islamic Iran and today we presented a real model of it as a gift."

TERROR IN YEMEN

U.S. officials say al Qaeda terrorists recently moved into Yemen by boat in a major infiltration operation on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula.

About 150 al Qaeda fighters were dropped off at a location on the coast along Yemen's Abyan province, the officials said. The terrorists were equipped with assault weapons, night-vision goggles, improvised explosive device material and other explosives.

The al Qaeda terrorists arrived from Syria, where al Qaeda rebels are gathering in large numbers and are receiving arms and equipment from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states. Arms the U.S. is supplying to Syrian rebels also are likely to end up in terrorist hands.

Al Qaeda's Yemen affiliate is especially strong in Abyan province, and the Yemeni government has been engaged in a counterinsurgency against the group for the past several years.

POLLING PUTIN

President Obama isn't the only one facing a sharp decline in his approval rating. Recent polls show that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is fond of being photographed without his shirt, is declining in popularity among his people.

Russia's leading independent pollster, the Levada Center, concluded in a recent report that fervor for the Russian strongman has chilled considerably.

From a peak of 80 percent approval rating in 2008, Mr. Putin's favorability rating declined to 47 percent in an August survey.

Those with an unfavorable view of the former KGB officer, who has populated his authoritarian administration with former KGB political police, increased to 27 percent from 10 percent during the same period.

Levada stated that Russians consider Mr. Putin "first and foremost representing the interests of the security services, oligarchs, the bureaucracy and the heads of large corporations — figures who in the public mind are at odds with ordinary people."

No alternatives to Mr. Putin appear to be on the political horizon.

Bill Gertz can be reached at @BillGertz.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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