Others include the Wing Loong, or Pterodactyl, which bears a striking resemblance to the US Reaper and carries a brace of missiles. Chinese media reports and air show staff say it has been exported to countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, possibly the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Uzbekistan, at just a fraction of the Reaper’s price tag of US$30 million each. Military officials in the UAE and Uzbekistan declined to comment on the reports.
Another combat drone being offered for export, the CH-4, has space for four missiles and is said to be able to fly continuously for 30 hours. Even more ambitious is the Xiang Long BZK-005, similar to the US Global Hawk. It has a reported range of 6,437km and is roughly the size of a medium-sized fighter jet. However, deployment may be some time off and a 2011 crash points to rumored problems with the guidance system.
Further developments could see China competing with the world’s two major drone producers, the US and Israel, for markets in close ally Pakistan, Myanmar and other developing nations. Customers might even include Russia, which is the world’s No. 2 arms exporter, but has had little success making UAVs. There are some indications that China may already be exporting know-how to Pakistan, given design similarities between Chinese drones and Pakistan’s Shahpar UAV, said Huw Williams, an expert on drones at Jane’s Defence Weekly.
However, Williams said China will likely struggle to find customers for its larger drones, given limited demand and the large number of countries developing such systems of their own.
“They’re very interested in getting into this market,” Wezeman said. “Another few years and they will have caught up.”