VOA News/Henry Ridgwell
LONDON — China is meeting a growing demand for armed drones in the Middle East, adding new military capabilities to an already tense security situation, according to a new report from the London-based Royal United Services Institute.
Report author Justin Bronk says Beijing asks few questions when selling the technology overseas.
“Because the United States in particular has refused — apart from the cases of the U.K. and France — to export armed models of its iconic Predator and Reaper series of armed drones, China has sort of stepped in to fill that gap. And while its offerings such as the Wing Loong series or CH-4 are less technologically capable than their American counterparts, they’re available pretty much to any state that wants to buy,” Bronk told VOA.
The report says the Chinese-made drones are far less advanced than U.S.-built UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), which have been used in several arenas across the Middle East region. However, the Chinese drones are far cheaper and easier to access.
Meanwhile, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are developing their own armed drone programs, while Iran is among the regional powers using the new technology to undertake missions that would otherwise be too risky using conventional manned jets, Bronk said.
“In the case of Iran, the development of armed drones, mostly copied from old Israeli patterns, has allowed them to operate airstrike capabilities in Iraq and in Syria, despite the fact that its conventional air force is far too obsolescent and far too limited and too precious to be risked in skies controlled largely by potentially hostile powers like the United States and Israel.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to relax export bans on American armed drone systems, but it is not clear when that might happen. The report’s authors say such a policy would likely have a big impact on the use of the technology across the Middle East region.