SINGAPORE ― Chinese companies have set their sights on the Asia-Pacific region as a potential market for their burgeoning line of armed unmanned aircraft, with the appearance of two such platforms at the Singapore Airshow for the first time.
Both the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group’s Wing Loong and the larger Wing Loong II were on static display at the air show, which runs Feb. 6-11, along with a suite of mock-up weapons for potential customers to view.
Representatives at the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation booth were cagey about potential markets in the Asia-Pacific for the Wing Loong II, with one saying that the company is looking at “traditional markets in the region” when asked by Defense News.
China has had recent success in arms sales to the region, with regional countries like Myanmar and Thailand having recently acquired weapons from China. However it would not be beyond the realm of imagination to see countries like Indonesia turning to China to supply armed UAVs if there is a need for such capabilities.
According to marketing literature, the Wing Loong II is a “multi-purpose reconnaissance-strike integrated UAV system” that operates at medium altitude, and it can be used in reconnaissance, surveillance and damage assessment along with real-time attack on time-sensitive targets.
Standard payloads include an electro-optical turret that has infrared, laser rangefinder and designator capabilities as well as a separate synthetic aperture radar. Electronic intelligence, communications intelligence and electronic warfare payloads are also available.
The Wing Loong II was first observed in 2015, with the first flight reportedly occurring in February 2017.
The manufacturer says the type has a maximum takeoff weight of 9,260 pounds, a maximum speed of 230 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 29,500 feet and an endurance of 20 hours.
Six hardpoints on the Wing Loong II carry a total of 1,060 pounds of external stores, which can include various guided bombs and missiles. The type is also fitted with a satellite communications suite for beyond line-of-sight operations around the globe, along with a data link for line-of-sight control.
A company video played at the Singapore Airshow shows the Wing Loong II operating in both desert and littoral environments, with the latter showing it attacking small surface craft using 220-pound YJ-9E anti-ship missiles. The video also boasts that the Wing Loong II can be fully fueled and armed within 30 minutes of landing.
It was reported in January 2017 that the United Arab Emirates was the launch customer of the Wing Loong II, with three UAVs matching the dimensions of the type sighted on satellite imagery of the Qusahwira air base taken in October 2017.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also said to have ordered, or are operating, the Wing Loong II, although this has not been confirmed.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.