Chinese UAV Wing Loong II is seen on the static display during the 52nd Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France June 20, 2017. Photo: CFP

China’s plan to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) for drones would make fighter drones possible, allowing them to fly on their own, identify targets and make decisions to enhance their combat capability, Chinese military experts said on Wednesday.

Speaking on the future of China’s military drones on a China Central Television (CCTV) program aired on Monday, Li Yidong, chief designer of China’s Wing Loong series drones, said, “AI is a huge field with many basic technologies, which are developing. We are doing all sorts of work to apply these technologies on drones, and also piloted aircraft.”

“We want [drones] to fly intelligently, have smart situational awareness, capable of identifying targets and automatically make some decisions,” Li said.

Drones today are operated manually and remotely from ground stations, but the signals could be jammed in electric warfare and the aircraft could lose their combat capability, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the Global Times on Wednesday, noting that AI installed on drones would solve this problem.

“AI is also a fundamental requirement for the development of fighter drones,” Wei said. 

Since lag time occurs in remote control over long distances, drones now have difficulty fighting air-to-air combat in which battle situations change very fast. But with AI, the drones can fight using their own judgment and without lag caused by data transmission, according to Wei.

AI developers must also consider the safety issue, as AI drones must still strictly follow human commands and not take unwished actions, analysts said.

Technological issues also need to be sorted out, like the development of the hardware and if the size of it can be fitted onto a drone, Wei said.

Li said that he is also developing drones that can fit into a whole combat system, exponentially boosting the system’s combat capability.

Li did not give any detail on this aspect.

The Wing Loong series of drones are domestically developed by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China.

As of December 2018, 100 Wing Loong drones have been delivered for export, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

They have fired more than 3,000 rounds of live munitions on battlefields with an overall accuracy higher than 90 percent, according to a separate CCTV report in March.