HONG KONG -- There were 1,000 of them dotting the night sky, floating gracefully like glowing purple, red and blue Chinese lanterns. It was the largest-ever demonstration of drones flying in formation, a spectacle that drew gasps from the crowd gathered in Guangzhou, China, to mark the end of the Lunar New Year.
Though it had the festive air of a holiday fireworks display, the Guangzhou drone show in February would be cited less than two weeks later in a U.S. congressional hearing on advanced Chinese weaponry. In testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Elsa Kania, a former Pentagon analyst and expert on China's military technology, referred to the performance as a "demonstration of swarming techniques" with clear military applications. Chinese experts, she noted, said the same technology behind the stunning air show could be used in a deadly "distributed system with payload modules mounted on small drones."