Unmanned Systems

U.S. wants help with what China's up to with UAS, robotics

The U.S.-China relationship is complicated. From military modernization efforts, to aggressive land reclamation in Pacific waters, to being considered one of, if not the top, cyber threat, China has drawn a lot of attention from the United States. And despite the recent understanding Beijing and Washington came to regarding cyber theft of intellectual property, suspicions persist – so much so, that the United States appears to be outsourcing espionage efforts (at least concerning public information) as a means of gaining more insight into China’s use of robotics. 

China’s emerging technological sector has raised concerns among U.S. officials who worry that military technology suspected of being stolen by China has enabled it to replicate next-generation U.S. military technology such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. With stringent U.S. export policies concerning, among other things, unmanned aircraft, fears exist that China could become a supplier in this space, fracturing U.S. partnerships. Case in point: The first instance of an armed drone strike by Iraqi forces came just last month from the Chinese-made CH-4 unmanned aircraft, which resembles the U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper.

In a recent solicitation, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission is asking for unclassified research reports on China’s industrial and military robotics development.  

Key research areas include assessing the level of interest the Chinese government and military has in the military applications of robotics, as well as identifying the leading research organizations, companies, universities or other entities involved in military robotics R&D in China, according to the solicitation.

The commission also wants to assess Chinese robotics development strategies that could be used to counter present or future U.S. military capabilities, such as the Defense Department’s “Third Offset Strategy,” which, as Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work has said, is intended to “sustain and advance America's military dominance for the 21st century.” One of the primary focuses of the third offset strategy is man-machine teaming. The research report should examine how the U.S. can maintain advantages in the development and production of dual-use robotics technologies.

The solicitation also is looking for assessments of China’s developments in artificial intelligence and all types of unmanned vehicles, including aerial, maritime (surface and underwater) and ground systems. The United States is concerned with how much research and development focuses on autonomous operation as well as innovative military applications and capabilities in unmanned systems.   

A notice will eventually be published as to the selection of a contractor for this project.  The selected contractor, at the discretion of the commission, must agree to participate in up to four briefings and up to one public hearing held by the commission. 

Responses are due by Feb. 2, 2016. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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