China Speeds Up Drone Exports to Middle East


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China, the world’s main distributor of armed drones, is increasingly popular among Middle Eastern countries locked-out of purchasing American-made drones.

With increasing degree of drone utilization in warfare, drones are proving their value and importance. Many countries are now speeding up the development for these weapons systems, including China, according to international news agencies.

“The Chinese product now doesn’t lack technology, it only lacks market share,” said Song Zhongping, a Chinese military analyst and former lecturer at the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force University of Engineering. “And the United States restricting its arms exports is precisely what gives China a great opportunity.”

At the start of the year, a satellite passing over southern Saudi Arabia photographed American-made surveillance drones at an airfield, alongside Chinese-manufactured armed ones.

One of the biggest Chinese exports is the Cai-Hong, or Rainbow, series made by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., or CASC, the largest contractor for the Chinese space program.

CASC’s CH-4 and CH-5 models are on a par with San Diego-based General Atomics’ Predator and Reaper drones, yet much cheaper. While the Chinese models reportedly lag behind their American counterparts, the technology is good enough to justify the price tag, which might be half or less.

A CASC executive said cutting-edge U.S. models like Boeing Co.’s Stingray, introduced this year for the U.S. Navy, still hold a technological advantage.

Since 2014, China has sold more than 30 CH-4′s to countries including Saudi Arabia and Iraq in deals worth over $700 million, according to CASC. Ten countries are currently in negotiations to purchase the CH-4, according to the firm.

Last year, China sold to the UAE the Wing Loong II, an armed unmanned aerial vehicle roughly equivalent to the American MQ-9 Reaper.