The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy deployed minesweeper drones alongside a manned minesweeper in a recent sea mine countermeasure exercise, with experts saying on Wednesday that unmanned vessels can enhance efficiency and lower casualty risks amid US plans to deploy sea mines against China.

A minesweeping detachment attached to the PLA Northern Theater Command recently organized sea mine countermeasure forces and explored new patterns of unmanned integrated minesweeping procedures with an exercise in the Yellow Sea, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Tuesday.

The exercise eyed new characteristics under the new situation, CCTV said.

An article by Commander Victor Duenow of the US Navy published on the website of the US Naval Institute last year said that the US should pursue offensive mining capabilities against China in the Yellow Sea and the Pearl River Delta.

The island of Taiwan also commissioned additional minelayers in January 2022 to “defend” against the Chinese mainland, the Associated Press reported at the time.

The exercise, simulating a scenario in which hostile sea mines were spotted around friendly forces, tasked the detachment with clearing the area of the sea mine threat, CCTV reported.

A flotilla consisting of the manned minesweeper Huimin, two minesweeper drones and two motor boats quickly maneuvered to the area, with the two remotely controlled minesweeper drones taking the lead.

The drone vessels activated their side-scan sonar systems, searched for underwater targets, and transmitted the data to the combat system of the Huimin in real time.

After building a database on the sea mines, the Huimin deployed its mine neutralization vehicle and sent frogmen to remove the mines.

According to the CCTV report, the drones are smaller than the Huimin, but significantly larger than the motor boats.

The exercise set up a realistic combat environment, tactical background and challenging objectives, and enhanced the training intensity for unmanned integrated mine countermeasures, Lieutenant Commander Sun Jian, the commanding officer of the Huimin, said in the report.

Drone vessels are expected to play a significant role in future naval warfare, as they can carry out multiple missions including reconnaissance, obstacle clearance and attack, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

China is in the world’s top tier of drone ship development, Song said.

Minelaying, minesweeping and anti-submarine missions are also key tasks for drone vessels, another Chinese military expert, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Deploying unmanned equipment in mine countermeasures can greatly enhance efficiency because it is more flexible, maneuverable and there is no risk of casualties, the expert said.