By Carlo Muñoz - 04/09/12 03:23 PM EDT
Foreign intelligence agencies have already confirmed the existence of one Chinese-built maritime aerial drone aboard PLN ships, United Press International reported Monday.
Other state media reports coming from Beijing claim other versions of unmanned intelligence aircraft are already under construction.
Military or intelligence agencies in Beijing have also been attempting to breach Defense Department networks, in an attempt to gain more information on U.S. unmanned aircraft operations.
That information from Iran and the Pentagon may have informed China's work on this latest- sea-worthy drone.
Iran is also attempting to build its own fleet of aerial drones, based on what it learned from the so-called "Beast of Kandahar" aircraft, into a new surveillance aircraft of their own.
But it's unlikely that Iranian or Chinese engineers can incorporate any of the technology from the stealthy American drone. It will likely take months, or even years, before Iran can take anything its learned from the Sentinel drone and work it into a functioning weapons system.
The new Chinese drones will likely be used to track American and foreign warships and submarines traveling in the Pacific.
News of their existence comes as the United States prepares to shift its focus from the Middle East to Asia.
This strategic shift, announced by President Obama in February, was driven mainly by a need to check Chinese and North Korean aggression in the region.
Interest in unmanned technology has increased dramatically among foreign countries in recent years. Autonomous drones, operated by the Pentagon and CIA, have played a key role in ongoing U.S.-led counterterrorism operations around the world.
Currently, U.S. defense firms lead the world in development of unmanned intelligence aircraft. But Beijing claims its new sea-worthy drone is the first step in breaking into that market.