Dozens of unmanned aerial drones were on display this month at the Chinese air show in Zhuhai.
HONG KONG -- At China's biennial air show in Zhuhai this month, an imposing fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles was on display -- drones bearing a striking resemblance to the American aircraft that have proved so deadly in attacks on insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Israel, Britain and the United States have pretty much had a corner on the global drone market, but the recent Chinese air show and a Pentagon report have exploded that notion.
"In a worrisome trend, China has ramped up research in recent years faster than any other country," said the unclassified analysis published in July by the Defense Science Board.
"It displayed its first unmanned system model at the Zhuhai air show five years ago, and now every major manufacturer for the Chinese military has a research center devoted to unmanned systems."
The report, which said "the military significance of China's move into unmanned systems is alarming," suggested that China could "easily match or outpace U.S. spending on unmanned systems, rapidly close the technology gaps and become a formidable global competitor in unmanned systems."
Two Chinese models on display at the Zhuhai show -- the CH-4 and the Yilong, or Pterodactyl --appeared to be clones of the Reaper and Predator drones that are fixtures in the U.S. arsenal.
A larger drone, the Xianglong, or Soaring Dragon, is a long-range, high-altitude model that would seem to be a cousin of the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Huang Wei, the director of the CH-4 program at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told the state-run newspaper Global Times that his lightweight drone can carry cameras, ground-searching radar, missiles and smart bombs.
"As the Americans say," Mr. Huang said, "the U.A.V. is fit for missions that are dirty, dangerous and dull." The paper reported that the drone's range of 3,500 kilometers, or about 2,200 miles, made it "ideal to conduct surveillance missions" over Japan's Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.
The islets are coveted by Beijing.
My colleague Scott Shane, in an article on drone warfare last year, posed a few of the tough questions about the spread and use of drone warfare: If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say?
What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus?
American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.
"The problem is that we're creating an international norm" -- asserting the right to strike preemptively against those we suspect of planning attacks, argues Dennis M. Gormley, a senior research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and author of "Missile Contagion," who has called for tougher export controls on American drone technology.
"The copycatting is what I worry about most."
The qualities that have made lethal drones so attractive to the Obama administration for counterterrorism appeal to many countries and, conceivably, to terrorist groups: a capacity for leisurely surveillance and precise strikes, modest cost, and most important, no danger to the operator, who may sit in safety thousands of miles from the target.
Dozens of countries have bought or built their own unmanned aircraft, primarily for surveillance, but as Scott points out, "adding missiles or bombs is hardly a technical challenge."
There were no drone flights or demonstrations reported this year at Zhuhai, although the Global Times suggested that 20 red stars and 15 rocket outlines painted on the fuselage of a Pterodactyl indicated 20 airborne missions and 15 missile firings.
And a Japanese military plane recently took photos of a drone circling some Chinese naval vessels on a training exercise near Okinawa.
The Pentagon believes the drone had been deployed from one of the Chinese ships.
There was no sign this year of Anjian, or the Dark Sword, part of a rumored new generation of Chinese stealth drones.
The Pentagon study said the Anjian "represents the aspirations of the Chinese to design something even the Western powers don't have -- a supersonic drone capable of air-to-air combat as well as ground strikes." Defense News reported recently from Zhuhai that there was a change in tone in how the Chinese were marketing their drones.
China's Blue Shark Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) preparing to attack the Indian Navy's INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier.
This year, however, "a stealthy Blue Shark" drone was shown attacking an Indian carrier.
In March, China announced an 11.2 percent increase in military spending.
Its navy has held blue-water trials of the country's first and only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, a refitted Soviet-era castoff.
And the official Xinhua news agency reported Sunday that a Chinese-made J-15 jet fighter had successfully taken off and landed on the carrier, as Edward Wong reported from Beijing.
Michael Schiffer, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said last summer that Beijing's broad and rapid military buildup is "potentially destabilizing" in the Pacific, as my colleague Elisabeth Bumiller reported.
That buildup was detailed in this Pentagon report.
"Mr. Schiffer said that no single development led him to describe China's arms buildup as 'potentially destabilizing,' although Pentagon officials had increasingly said they were concerned about China's military intentions in the Pacific," Elisabeth wrote.
"Instead, he said, he used the phrase because of China's lack of transparency and its trends in military prowess."
That prowess would seem to include drones.
"The scope and speed of unmanned-aircraft development in China is a wake-up call that has both industrial and military implications," said the report by the Defense Science Board.
"U.S. exports of unmanned systems are highly constrained. China, with no such constraints, has made U.A.V.s a new focus of military exports."
The analysis recommended that U.S. military planners and the Defense Intelligence Agency should "aggressively" incorporate drones and drone warfare into their war games, simulations and exercises.