WASHINGTON — China will construct a new facility to produce unmanned aerial vehicles in Saudi Arabia, following a recent visit from Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman.
The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia's national center for all things science and tech, signed a partnership with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. on March 16, reported the South China Morning Post.
The new facility is part of a $65 billion deal signed between the Saudi monarch and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Beijing to promote stronger ties between the two nations.
CASC produces China’s CH-4 UAV, a drone similar to the U.S. Air Force’s General Atomics MQ-1 Predator. Saudi Arabia, which already operates CH-4 drones, has expressed a desire to grow its fleet. In addition to expanding the Saudi fleet, the new facility can operate as a hub for manufacturing and servicing for other CH-4 operators in the Middle East, including Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
The CH-4 can carry AR-1 missiles, capable of hitting soldiers, tanks and small boats within 1.5 meters of the target. The Saudi facility will be CASC’s third CH-4 factory outside of China, with facilities in Pakistan and Myanmar.
In 2014, a deal fell through between the two nations when the kingdom sought China’s DF-21D "carrier killer" ballistic missile.
"The DF-21 deal was turned down as a result of strong opposition in the international community amid the Iran nuclear crisis in the region," Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong told the South China Morning Post. "Beijing may want to use the CH-4 drone as a substitute project in a bid to please an old friend."