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China Set To Grab UAV Market While US Restricts Sales

Posted by Colin Clark on

Chinese UAV image

PARIS: Psst. Hey mister. Wanna buy a UAV? China’s got drones for shooting, drones for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and drones for target practice. Cheap prices and no arms export restrictions.

And China may grab a significant share of the international market for just those reasons, according to a new report by the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Breaking Defense obtained a copy of the report: China’s Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Industry

The irony would be, of course, that the United States has largely created that demand by demonstrating the utility of drones (UAVs, Remotely Piloted Aircraft — RPAs — pick your term) in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and other locales over the last decade.

Here’s what the report’s author, Kimberly Hsu, concludes:

“Surging domestic and international market demand for UAVs, from both military and civilian customers, will continue to buoy growth of the Chinese industry. Chinese defense firms do not face the same export restrictions as top UAV-exporting countries, such as the United States and Israel. As a result, China could become a key UAV proliferator, particularly to developing countries.”

Currently, the great majority of Chinese drones are tactical, but Hsu says that “in the long term, China’s continued interest and progression in strategic-level UAVs appear poised to position China as a leader in the high-end UAV market.” A major reason is that China is not a member of either the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) or the looser but broader Wassenaar Arrangement. “In the absence of competition from more sophisticated U.S. or Israeli alternatives, China could become a key proliferator to non-members of the MTCR or Wassenaar,” she concludes.

Just what drones is China building? Well, the report notes there isn’t much information available about the PLA’s efforts. Hsu says that China, “probably is developing and operating UAVs for electronic warfare (EW).” These would “probably would focus on jamming tactical communications and global positioning system (GPS), but could provide a range of other capabilities, including false target generation against enemy Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS)/Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and power grid attack.”

On top of that, several Chinese government owned defense firms are also developing killer drones in the vein of our Predator or Reaper. “It is not clear if China intends to use UCAVs in an air-to-air or an air-to-ground role,” Hsu writes.

In addition to state-owned enterprises, several of China’s top engineering universities are working on drones.

On the civilian side, China has already demonstrated use of indigenous drones for earthquake relief efforts after the May 2008 and April 2013 earthquakes in Sichuan province, according to the report. And the rough Chinese equivalent of the Coast Guard and harbor police “are integrating UAVs into their operations.

All in all, China’s policy of not participating in what it would doubtless call hegemonic restrictions on its actions — MTCR, Wassenaar — coupled with its willingness to sell to pretty much anybody who can buy their weapons, places it in a prime position to benefit, just as Europe benefited from America’s decision to sharply restrict satellite sales and their components to foreign countries.

What do you think?