China ramps up pilot training to boost drone operator ranks

South China Morning Post

Posted at Oct 29 2020 02:05 PM

The Chinese army has launched professional drone operator courses at its academies as the importance of unmanned equipment increases and more skilled personnel are needed.

The first batch of professional drone operators recently sat their certificate exam at the Army Engineering University of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), PLA Daily reported on Tuesday.

“In recent years, the army has looked into reform and transformation, set the focus on the new combat posts of drone operators and sped up nurturing new types of military talents,” the report said.

The PLA has developed for, and equipped its troops with, many drones, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), surface boats and underwater vehicles, and even robot road cars for various purposes.

At last year’s National Day parade, advanced unmanned vehicles – including supersonic reconnaissance drones, stealth combat drones and underwater drones – were displayed.

Notably, many UAVs have been deployed to the southwest border in the Himalayas, where the PLA has confronted Indian troops in a territorial dispute that has been going on for months.

Some are logistical swarm drones that can transport supplies to inaccessible outposts in the mountains during winter, some are large missile-capable reconnaissance and strike drones specially modified for a high-altitude environment and some are communication relay devices for infantries and artilleries.

Earlier this month, unmanned boats were used in a drill to clear naval mines and barriers and open the path for amphibious landing forces, for a simulated military campaign on Taiwan.

The certified operator exam took place at the Military Equipment Academy for non-commissioned officers in Wuhan, a branch of the Army Engineering University, and consisted of nine subjects, according to PLA Daily.

In the exam the soldiers had to follow real-time commands, quickly analyse the parameters on the control panel and successfully take off, land, fly and deal with special situations.

The academy identified the key skills essential for an operator, including task planning, flight control and equipment maintenance. The pilot training course was designed with more content to meet the requirements of China’s frontline posts, combat missions and standard procedures.

The curriculum was delivered via a combination of online teaching, virtual controls and practical training.

“The training and exam … help us to adjust to the new posts as quickly as possible,” the PLA Daily report quoted Xue Yongliang, a student from the PLA 83rd Group Army, as saying.

China is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of military drones, both for the PLA and for export. Chinese-made drones, such as the CH series and Wing Loong series, are popular in Africa and the Middle East.