HONG KONG — At China’s biennial air show in Zhuhai this month, an imposing fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles was on display — drones bearing a striking resemblance to the American aircraft that have proved so deadly in attacks on insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Israel, Britain and the United States have pretty much had a corner on the global drone market, but the recent Chinese air show and a Pentagon report have exploded that notion.
“In a worrisome trend, China has ramped up research in recent years faster than any other country,” said the unclassified analysis published in July by the Defense Science Board. “It displayed its first unmanned system model at the Zhuhai air show five years ago, and now every major manufacturer for the Chinese military has a research center devoted to unmanned systems.”
The report, which said “the military significance of China’s move into unmanned systems is alarming,” suggested that China could “easily match or outpace U.S. spending on unmanned systems, rapidly close the technology gaps and become a formidable global competitor in unmanned systems.”
Two Chinese models on display at the Zhuhai show — the CH-4 and the Wing Loong, or Pterodactyl — appeared to be clones of the Reaper and Predator drones that are fixtures in the U.S. arsenal. A larger drone, the Xianglong, or Soaring Dragon, is a long-range, high-altitude model that would seem to be a cousin of the RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Huang Wei, the director of the CH-4 program at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told the state-run newspaper Global Times that his lightweight drone can carry cameras, ground-searching radar, missiles and smart bombs.
“As the Americans say,” Mr. Huang said, “the U.A.V. is fit for missions that are dirty, dangerous and dull.”
The paper reported that the drone’s range of 3,500 kilometers, or about 2,200 miles, made it “ideal to conduct surveillance missions” over a small group of islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The islets are claimed by Beijing, Tokyo and Taipei.
Full article: Growth in China’s Drone Program Called ‘Alarming’ (NY Times)