The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft without a human pilot onboard. The flight of UAV is either controlled autonomously by the computers of the vehicle, under the remote control of a navigator, or pilot on the ground or in another vehicle. The characteristics of UAV are: small in size, light weight, simple structure, low cost, better mobility, and long duration of flight. It is often used as a drone aircraft and reconnaissance plane. Furthermore, the UAV can be utilized in electronic and anti-submarine warfare, communication relay, artillery correction and science test. The UAV has become an irreplaceable instrument in contemporary wars. The research and development of UAV has therefore become an overarching trend in the world. Should armed conflict breaks out over Taiwan Strait, the UAV will surely play an indispensable role.
Since the American UAV “Fire Bee” shot down by PLA Air Force (PLAAF) over the Leizhou Peninsula on November 15th, 1964, China began to pay attention on the roles that UAV can play during wars. China has defined the UAV as a core weapon to be used in the “acupuncture warfare” of future local wars. Due to the military affairs revolution in the recent decade, information has become more crucial. The UAV can not only serve as a platform, but also act as a weapon throughout the entire war. In terms of UAV development, China acquired the Harpy UAVs from Israel and has cooperated with other countries to import key technologies. The pace of UAV research and development in China has surpassed all other countries in the world. The result was shown in 2010, at least 25 Chinese UAVs were on demonstration in the 8th China International Aviation and Aeronautics Exhibition in Zhuhai.
In light of the contexts of the Chinese strategic thinking, international and domestic strategic environments, and growth and decline in military capability, this thesis reviews and discusses the evolution of PRC military and air force strategies under different political regimes. The issues of current development, capability, and tactics of Chinese UAV are addressed in order to assess its efficiency. In addition, this thesis further explores the background and evolution of Chinese Air Force strategy, analyzes the progress of development, current situation and capability of Chinese UAV, examines the modernization of PLAAF and its future trend, and discusses the impact of PLAAF modernization on the potential war over Taiwan Strait. Through the discussion of abovementioned themes and contents, this study intends to explicitly identify the orientation and trend of Chinese UAV development, and evaluate the impacts of modernization of PLAAF on the operation over Taiwan Strait.