Sustaining China’s Sovereignty Claims: The PLA’s Embrace of Unmanned Logistics


The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has tested the use of unmanned vehicles (UAVs) to perform logistical missions such as transportation and resupply since 2018. In academic explorations of border defense and logistics modernization, PLA logistics officers argue that UAVs can dramatically increase the efficiency of the PLA’s supply chain in addition to improving the military’s ability to supply forces operating in hostile environmental conditions or in contested areas. Such advantages could provide an important advantage to China as it seeks to bolster its military presence in areas of potential crisis such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea.

PLA troops operating in these areas must ensure that their supply chains are robust enough to function in the event of a border skirmish, and at the same time often negotiate difficult or inhospitable terrain. Under normal circumstances, maintaining and expanding operations in these areas would require…