By the end of this year, China’s People’s Liberation Army is likely to acquire its first drone ship from which it can launch swarms of drones. According to Chinese sources, the “mothership” Zhu Hai Yun will be equipped with a semi-autonomous system featuring an operating system with artificial intelligence.

In a test, Zhu Hai Yun fired swarms of drones that “drew a three-dimensional dynamic observation”, and returned the information to the mother ship; Zhu Hai Yun was thus able to obtain a 3D picture of the region under study.

Although it has not been confirmed, but it is very likely that Zhu Hai Yun will also play the role of a command center, as its semi-autonomous mode allows collaboration and control of drones and submarines.

“The intelligent, unmanned ship will bring revolutionary changes to ocean surveillance,” said Chen Dake, director of the Guangdong Southern Marine Science and Engineering Laboratory.

The drone mothership was on the drawing board a year ago in Guangzhou with engineers from Huangpu Wenchong Shipping Company. According to official distribution characteristics from Chinese sources, Zhu Hai Yun has a length of 290 feet (88 meters) and is 20 feet (6 meters) in height. In open waters it can travel at a maximum speed of 18 knots (33.3 kmph / 20.7mph).

According to Chinese sources, the mothership allows two modes of control – either remotely from a coastal military base or manually using onboard surveillance.

According to military experts, Zhu Hai Yun is part of the Chinese navy’s ambition to develop naval military technology to target ships with ballistic capabilities.

The development comes at a time when there is a growing sense of military adventurism by China especially vis-à-vis Taiwan.

Satellite imagery from earlier this month showed that the PLA was building detailed models of a Taiwanese port and the location of Taiwanese ships there, in a potential exercise aimed at the invasion of Taiwan using such models.