Drone strike plan to kill drug lord shows Chinese military progress

China considered using a drone strike in a mountainous region of Southeast Asia to kill a Myanmar drug lord wanted in the murders of 13 Chinese sailors, but decided instead to capture him alive, according to an influential state-run newspaper.

The plan to use a drone, described to the Global Times newspaper by a senior public security official, highlights China's increasing capacity in unmanned aerial warfare.

Liu Yuejin, the director of the public security ministry's anti-drug bureau, told the newspaper that the plan called for using a drone carrying explosives to bomb the outlaw's hideout in the opium-growing area of Myanmar in the Golden Triangle at the intersection of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

China's law enforcement officials were under pressure from an outraged public to take action after 13 Chinese sailors on two cargo ships laden with narcotics were murdered in October 2011 on the Mekong River. Naw Kham, a major drug trafficker, was suspected in the murders.

A fruitless manhunt by the Chinese made security officials turn to a drone strike as a possible solution. The fugitive was captured at the Mekong River port of Mong Mo after a six-month hunt in the jungles of the Golden Triangle.

China's global navigation system, Beidou, would have been used to guide the drones to the target, Liu said. China's goal is for the Beidu system to compete with the United States' Global Positioning System, Russia's Glonass and the European Union's Galileo, Chinese experts say.

Liu's comments on the use of the Beidou system with the drones reflects the rapid advancement in that navigation system from its humble beginnings more than a decade ago.

The system was launched in 2000 and has since expanded to 16 navigation satellites over Asia and the Pacific Ocean, according to an article in Wednesday's China Daily.

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