Several countries in the Mideast and Africa have deployed weapons in conflicts after buying from Beijing—at lower cost
Last October, satellite images captured the distinctive outlines of some powerful new weaponry at a Saudi runway used for military strikes in Yemen. Three Wing Loong drones had appeared, Chinese-made replicas of the U.S. Predator with a similar ability to stay aloft for hours carrying missiles and bombs.
.. growing evidence that military drones exported by China have recently been deployed in conflicts in the Mideast and Africa by several countries, including U.S. allies that the U.S. blocked from buying American models.
.. The U.S. has long refused to sell the most powerful U.S.-made drones to most countries, fearing they might fall into hostile hands, be used to suppress civil unrest or, in the Mideast, erode Israel’s military dominance.
.. State companies are selling aircraft resembling General Atomics’s Predator and Reaper drones at a fraction of the cost to U.S. allies and partners, and to other buyers.
.. Chinese and Saudi officials agreed to jointly produce as many as 100 Rainbow drones in Saudi Arabia
.. proved “on the battlefield,” hitting 300 targets in the previous year or so with Chinese laser-guided missiles.
.. Beijing used to sell mainly low-tech arms to poorer countries; now it is marketing sophisticated items including stealth fighters, and targeting markets once dominated by Russia and the U.S.
.. “China faces little competition for sale of such systems, as most countries that produce them are restricted in selling the technology” by international agreement
.. The Pentagon estimates China could produce almost 42,000 aerial drones—sale value more than $10 billion—in the decade up to 2023.
.. U.S. armed drones are still overwhelmingly considered the most capable, in part because the U.S. satellite infrastructure that controls them is superior. Israel has been the top military-drone exporter for years, according to SIPRI. But Israel has largely avoided selling them in its own Mideast neighborhood.
.. A Wing Loong, meanwhile, costs about $1 million compared with about $5 million for its U.S.-made counterpart, the Predator, and about $15 million for a Reaper, whose Chinese competition is the CH-5.
.. A North Korean drone that crashed in South Korea in 2014 was Chinese-made
..The CH-5 can in fact operate for up to 40 hours, its manufacturer says—about 50% longer than its American competition.