China considered carrying out its first drone strike beyond its borders last year to take out a gang leader in Myanmar convicted for killing 13 Chinese sailors.

Providing a rare insight into China’s fast-expanding drone capabilities, and willingness to use it, a top official revealed in an interview with a Chinese newspaper that the government had planned to use an unmanned aircraft to bomb an area in neighbouring Myanmar where Naw Kham, the leader of a drug gang, was thought to be in hiding.

That China appears to have the capability to carry out drone strikes beyond its borders underscores the rapid strides made by the domestic unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry, which has surprised foreign observers in recent years. Chinese officials said last year that they had begun to deploy UAVs for surveillance in border areas, besides for a range of civilian purposes at home.

Naw Kham reportedly led one of the biggest armed gangs in the “Golden Triangle” region near the Mekong river and was responsible for killing 13 sailors in October 2011.

“One plan was to use an unmanned aircraft to carry 20 kilograms of TNT to bomb the area, but the plan was rejected, because the order was to catch him alive,” Liu Yuejin, the director of the Ministry of Public Security’s anti-drug bureau, told the Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. He added that China’s Beidou satellite positioning system had also “provided tremendous assistance” in identifying and catching an associate of Kham’s, who had been hiding in the mountains of north-eastern Myanmar.

Naw Kham was caught in April last year, after police tracked him to a town in northern Myanmar. He was sentenced to death in November last year for killing the sailors.


  • Against drug gang leader

  • Rare insight into drone capabilities