China is increasing its research into drone technology, as it looks to increase arms exports and gain traction with cheaper technology (as well as selling to nations that Western countries prefer not to).
China’s drone tech lags behind the USA and Israel, currently the biggest suppliers of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but China is fast attracting foreign buyers such as Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt.
Drone technology on the rise in China
There are some well known consumer-only drone manufacturers in China, such as DJI, which incidentally has no involvement with military drones, but does make the rather awesome Phantom 3. These are the kinds of drones (or ‘quad-copters’ and ‘octa-copters’) that are proving popular with western hobbyists and professional videographers, as it lets them take amazing quality pictures and video, and they’re very easy to fly.
But apart from domestic companies developing cutting edge consumer tech, the Chinese government is researching military drones. The country has previously not had much success exporting manned aircraft, but hopes to do better with UAVs as they are cheaper and easier to build.
“Research and development on drones in our country has now entered a phase of high-speed progress”, said Xu Guangyu, a retired major general in the People’s Liberation Army. “We have some distance to catch up with developed countries — that’s certain — but the export market is growing”.
China’s largest drone maker is currently Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC), which is predicated to become the world’s largest maker of military drones by 2023. One of its drones, the Wing Loong, sells for $1 million according to Chinese media. The US-made MQ-9 Reaper (sounds menacing) drone on the other hand costs around $30 million.
The US has only exported armed drones to Britain, and says that it has to consider many factors when agreeing to foreign sales – such as human rights and the regional power balance (and I imagine if there are any despotic dictators trying to buy arms).