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US Navy plans to deploy carrier-based drones in Asia

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An artist's conception of the X-47B long-range unmanned aerial vehicle on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. The jet was test-flown in Feb this year.

YOKOSUKA, JAPAN (AP): The US is developing aircraft carrier-based drones that could provide a crucial edge as it tries to counter China's military rise.

American officials have been tightlipped about where the unmanned armed planes might be used, but a top Navy officer has told The Associated Press that some would likely be deployed in Asia.

"They will play an integral role in our future operations in this region," predicted Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the US 7th Fleet, which covers most of the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Land-based drones are in wide use in the war in Afghanistan, but sea-based versions will take several more years to develop.

Northrop Grumman conducted a first-ever test flight still on land earlier this year.

Van Buskirk didn't mention China specifically, but military analysts agree the drones could offset some of China's recent advances, notably its work on a "carrier-killer" missile.

"Chinese military modernisation is the major long-term threat that the US must prepare for in the Asia-Pacific region, and robotic vehicles aerial and subsurface are increasingly critical to countering that potential threat," said Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Center for New American Security.

China is decades away from building a military as strong as America's, but it is developing air, naval and missile capabilities that could challenge US supremacy in the Pacific and with it, America's ability to protect important shipping lanes and allies such as Japan and South Korea.

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UAV  US Navy  China  
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