Taiwanese civilian drone suppliers are tapping into the defense sector

Misha Lu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

At the Taiwan Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE) 2023, drone technology has become the main features, as the war in Ukraine demonstrated how UAVs have come to dominate battlefield. The ongoing trend for militaries to tap into commercial solutions has become particularly evident in the military drone sector, where players previously engaged in the civil sector are now looking to enter defense supply chains.

Taiwan-based Jet Hand Technology Co. (JHTC) for example, previously worked on drones geared for infrastructure inspection and surveying, but has been picked by Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense as one of the four system integrators offering anti-drone solutions.

At TADTE, the company showcases its full counter-UAV soft-kill solution, including a jamming platform designated to block positioning signals (GNSS) and control signals of various frequency bands, a passive radar system utilizing multiple RF sensors capable of detecting, tracking and identifying incoming drones via triangulation, and an electro-optical detection system.

"We opt for soft-kill solutions, as we don't want drones falling into densely populated areas," said Jason Chen, JHTC founder. Chen pointed out that the company's offerings primarily target China-made DJI drones, and that drones will automatically return to take-off positions once cut off from the control signals emitted from remote controllers. The ability to identify drone models based on RF signals, according to Chen, is a key competence, noting that small drones often penetrate air defense as radars often can't differentiate them from birds, thus failing to identify them as threats. Notably, given Taiwan's complicated electromagnetic environment in urban areas, JHTC pointed out that it makes an excellent testing ground for counter-UAV platforms to identify threats.

Following an incident in which Taiwanese soldiers stationed on Kinmen islands had to hurl rocks at Chinese drones, Chen said that major military airports in Taiwan already have JHTC's systems deployed, and that it is also exploring customers in East Asia and the Middle East.

Mark Star Servo Tech (MKS), another Taiwan-based company, was founded in 1999 and began with manufacturing servo actuators for remote control airplanes, but made its way into the defense sector after years of efforts that saw the company successfully obtaining the relevant military standards, including MIL-STD 810G for vibration testing. According to Frank Hsiao, a business development and development manager of MKS, the company's servo actuators eventually made its way into NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter in 2020, and Lockheed Martin's Vector Hawk naval drone also adopted MKS' servo actuators.

Notably, the Switchblade drone, rising to fame in the Ukraine war, and the Teng Yun drone for recon and strike missions developed by Taiwan's state-owned National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST), all used the company's servo products, not only because of the precision level offered by the company, but also it's cost reduction ability. Following the bans on DJI placed by the US Departments of State, Interior and Defense, MKS believes that Taiwan's drone supply chain will be a major beneficiary of the transferred orders.