Made in China: The Yi Long UAV by China Aviation Industry Corporation was on display at the Zhuhai Air Show last November. The United Arab Emirates is interested in procuring the drone. (AFP)
TAIPEI — After Turkey’s surprise announcement in September that it had selected China to supply it with air defense missile systems, fears have swept the Western defense industry of a Chinese incursion into the international defense market.
That goes for the Middle East, where US companies are paying closer attention to China’s attempts to disrupt control by the US and European defense industry there.
Richard Bitzinger, a regional defense analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said predictions of China ruining US and European exports to the Middle East are “premature.” However, there is little doubt that China is getting better at challenging some smaller US markets, especially poorer nations unable to buy expensive and sophisticated Western equipment.
China is offering “increasingly sophisticated weaponry at rock-bottom prices,” Bitzinger said. “China’s recent successes as an arms exporter are impressive. It has consistently ranked among the top five arms sellers in recent years, averaging approximately US $2 billion annually in arms deals.”
US and European companies also took notice of efforts reported in February that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) might procure an unknown number of Yi Long (Pterodactyl) UAVs from China, said Richard Fisher, a senior fellow with the US-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. The UAE might purchase three to five of these drones, which can be armed with anti-tank weapons and GPS-guided bombs.
The Yi Long’s maximum payload is 440 pounds. It has been exhibited at past air shows with four weapons: the BA-7 air-to-ground missile, YZ-212 laser-guided bomb, YZ-102A anti-personnel bomb and 50-kilogram LS-6 miniature guided bomb.
During the Paris Air Show in July, a top manager with China National Aero Technology Import & Export Corp. (CATIC) said the Yi Long drone had been sold to two to three countries, including one in Central Asia. Four to five more countries were in negotiations on procurement of the drone, including a number of Asian and African countries, said Vasiliy Kashin, a researcher at the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
“Uzbekistan and UAE were mentioned among procurers by some media outlets, but these reports could not be officially verified,” he said.
China is also pushing the L15 Falcon advanced jet trainer. China debuted the new aircraft at the 2009 Dubai Airshow, marking the first time the aircraft had been shown to the public outside of China. The L-15 is powered by two Ukrainian-built Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25F engines with a performance speed of Mach 1.4, a service ceiling of 16,000 meters and a range of 3,100 kilometers.
At this month’s Dubai Airshow, Chinese booths will include CATIC, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Execujet Aviation Group, Hangxin Aviation Technology and Jetex China.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Egypt might procure the FC-1 fighter from China, Fisher said. This would allow Egypt to reduce its need for security assistance from the US. However, the FC-1 is an untested aircraft in combat.
“Egypt used to have a tender for 32 new fighters prior to their ‘revolution’ and Mubarak’s fall. The FC-1 was one of the participants and was competing against MiG-29. After Egypt’s political and economic turmoil started, I have not seen any new reports about that project,” Kashin said. “Probably Egyptians have shelved the procurement plans.”