SINGAPORE — There was a time not long ago when Chinese defense companies exhibiting at international defense shows would provide no information about their products to journalists, or for that matter, even customers.
A model of a new fighter aircraft or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on display would come with no brochure and no placard indicating even the name. It was a curious experience to ask about a model of a new weapon system only to get shrugs from Chinese representatives who appeared just as baffled by its appearance at the airshow as the journalist. Journalists would take a picture and move on, assuming that boxes of brochures in the back room of the booth would be reshipped back to China unopened.
It was a public relations disaster for Chinese defense companies to spend enormous amounts of money for booths/chalets and allow for no dialogue about their products. It was a mystery most likely explained by China's history of opaque behavior and the fear of losing face.
This week's Singapore Airshow was a little different. The China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp. (CATIC) displayed the supersonic Hongdu-built L-15 Falcon attack/fighter/trainer (AFT) aircraft armed with new weapon systems not seen outfitted on the Falcon before. It even included a brochure, if you asked nicely, but even then badgering often came into play.
A model of the Wing Loong I combat UAV was on display, but the presence of a second model, the new Wing Loong II, vanished early in the show. When asked about its disappearance, CATIC representatives stated that no such thing ever existed. It was as if a black hole had twisted time and purged the model from our plane of existence forever.
CATIC displayed its new export variant of the J-10 fighter, now known in export vernacular as FC-20, but no brochures were provided.
By far the most impressive, was the distribution of brochures of two new export missiles, though there was no model at the CATIC booth. The TL-2 missile is an air-to-ground missile that can be launched by the ASN-209 UAV. In the brochure it is seen destroying a light armored vehicle. Then there was the TL-7 anti-ship missile that can be launched via air-to-ship (TL-7A), ground-to-ship (TL-7B), and ship-to-ship (TL-7C). The existence of these two new missile systems for export was a surprise, since they had not been seen before at international airshows.
Chinese companies also promoted future airshows for 2016. These included the first brochure ever seen for the 6th China International UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems] Conference and Exhibition, Sept. 19-23, Beijing. There was even a brochure for the secretive China International Defence Electronics Exhibition (CIDEX), May 11-13, Beijing.
There was even a booth for Airshow China (aka Zhuhai Airshow), Nov. 1-6, Zhuhai, Guangdong. No offense to the Singapore Airshow, but Zhuhai is now hands down the biggest and best airshow for defense journalists in all of Asia.
The China Aviation News (CAN) booth went so far as to give out a cardboard toy model for children of the export version of the J-31 stealth fighter, known as the FC-31 for those in the market. Though a model or brochure of the FC-31 was not at the CATIC exhibit.
It was a little more refreshing to see more transparency and less reluctance on the part of Chinese defense company representatives to utter Nǐ hǎo, even if they did not smile or shake your hand.
As a matter of record, before a great black hole swallows up any evidence of its existence, the following Chinese companies exhibited at the Singapore Airshow:
Acevision (Beijing) Exhibition Co., Ltd.
Aero AT (JiangSu) Aviation Industrial Co., Ltd.
Airshow China (Zhuhai)
China Aviation News
Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd.
Dornier Seawings Co. Ltd.
Ningbo Xingjian Aerotech Co., Ltd.
Sichuan Haite High-tech Co., Ltd.
United Enterprise Group Ltd.