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Chinese-made military drones have hidden tech to stop them being used to attack China, source claims


Nov 4, 2011
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Chinese-made military drones have hidden tech to stop them being used to attack China, source claims​

  • Exported UAVs are said to include a feature that recognises an ‘electric geofence’ encircling Chinese territory and turns them away
  • Earlier reports have suggested drone developers are including restrictions in their products for sale overseas


China has become a leading developer of unmanned aerial vehicles, second only to the United States. Photo: Dickson Lee

Chinese drones are leading the global market, but hidden “watchdog” technology is in place to limit their use in attacks on China.

A source close to the military said all Chinese combat and reconnaissance drones had been designed and developed to recognise an “electric geofence” encircling the borders of China’s territory.

“This is the so-called watchdog tool, which is a simple technology aimed at making sure Chinese exported drones are not used by enemies as weapons to attack our country,” said the source, who asked for anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

The function – included in the implantable components and parts of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – was declared by Chinese developers in their instruction books, the source said.

The comments appear to confirm claims last year by the head of a leading Turkish drone developer, who told Indian-Canadian website EurAsian Times that Chinese-made UAVs “turned around as they approached the Chinese border”.

Baykar Technology CEO Haluk Bayraktar said “hidden restrictions” and “subpar performance” of drones from China had caused some clients to turn to Turkish UAVs, like his company’s TB2 military devices.

Bayraktar also said that Turkey had already surpassed China’s total drone exports, according to the report published in September.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said it was appropriate for Chinese UAV developers to make national security the top priority, not their business. It was also “common knowledge” that they embed “watchdog” technologies in products for sale overseas.

“All drones need to be guided by positions connecting with the US-owned GPS or China’s BeiDou navigation system, so it should be very sensitive by longitude and latitude data, allowing developers to embed data information inside its hardware,” he said.

According to Li, this is a mature drone technology that has been developed over decades.

“The ‘watchdog’ system also connects with the vehicle’s power and weapons system, meaning the drones would stop flying or launching weapons when approaching the Chinese border.”

Some drones had the ability to self-destruct if the “watchdog” system was refitted or dismantled, Li said.

Beijing denied early reports that Chinese DJI civilian drones were being used by both Russian and Ukrainian forces in their conflict.

However, there have been claims on social media that DJI has added a geofencing function to its newer export versions that prevent them from flying over Ukraine – irrespective of who is controlling them.

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank, said Chinese UAV developers also installed electric geofences inside domestic drones to prevent them from flying into the country’s no-fly zones.

“Installing geofencing is a common operation among Chinese drone developers. For example, no civilian drones can fly [over] the Fifth Ring Road,” said Zhou, referring to the express road that encircles the capital’s peripheral seven major districts – Beijing’s prime administrative, commercial and cultural real estate.

China is now the world’s leader in drone development, after the United States. In the past decade, Chinese companies have delivered 220 UAVs to 16 countries, mainly in the Middle East and Africa, according to reports by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The official China News Service said on Monday that the country had just taken the lead in formulating and publishing four international standards in civilian drone development. A further nine standards were in the pipeline, the news agency said.


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