China to setup ‘Drone Factory’ in Saudi Arabia

Beijing : In an attempt to augment its arms export to the gulf countries, China is ready to set up ‘Hunter Killer” drone manufacturing project in Saudi. Manufacturing project of China’s ‘CH-4’ Hunter Killer drone will be set up in Saudi. It is said that an agreement to this effect was signed during Saudi King Salman’s China visit and this will be the first ever drone manufacturing project in a gulf country. China has previously set up ‘CH-4’ projects in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia’s organization for science and technology informed about the said drone factory project. Saudi King Salman had visited the Asian countries at the beginning of this month. Of these, the Saudi king signed US$65 billion worth of deals during his China visit. These deals feature collaboration in the fields of energy, culture, education and technology. The ‘King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology’ (KACST) signed an agreement with ‘China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’ (CASC) regarding the Drone manufacturing set up.

This partnership had been discussed beforehand in February at the International Defense Exhibition at Abu Dhabi. It is being said that this project has paved way for the ‘CH-4’ drones to enter into the Gulf market. Saudi Arabia has also shown interest in purchasing these drones. ‘Surveillance’ and ‘Hunter killer’ drones are the two versions of ‘CH-4’ made available by China in the international market. Considering the significance of the war against terrorism in the Gulf and African countries, China has targeted manufacturing Hunter Killer ‘CH-4’ drones. Military analysts in China claim that this Saudi project will turn out to be beneficial for it.

Besides Saudi, ‘CH-4’ is moderately utilized by countries like Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. Of these, Iraq is known to purchase the most i.e. 56% defense equipment from the US. Having said so, SIPRI – an organization that keeps a database of the global trade of arms and ammunitions has claimed that Iraq seems to be in favor of China’s ‘CH-4’ over the US.

‘CH-4’ is being perceived as the replica of the US ‘MQ-1 Predator’ drone. One single American Predator costs up to US$20 million in the international market whereas China’s CH-4 drone having similar characteristics is priced at US$4 million. Hence Iraq states to have preferred the five times cheaper Chinese ‘CH-4’ drones. It is also claimed that this will enhance the demand for Chinese drones in the Gulf countries.

China has previously set up the ‘CH-4’ projects in Pakistan and Myanmar. China had indicated to accelerate the drone manufacturing from its Pakistan project. Though the said Hunter killer drones are being manufactured in Pakistan, the Pakistani Air force does not possess them. Pakistan had attempted to purchase these drones. But China instead provided upgradation of four earlier supplied‘CH-3’ surveillance drones. On similar lines as Saudi, Pakistan too has expressed keen interest in procuring ‘CH-4’. But China has maintained silence on Pakistan’s demand.

Meanwhile, Saudi had earlier made an enquiry to China for purchasing its ‘Dongfeng 21D’ (DF – 21D) Anti-ship missile. The Saudi officials had even discussed the same with China in 2014. Back in the 1980s decade, China had supplied the long range ‘DF – 3A’ ballistic missile to Saudi. Resultantly it was being predicted that China would supply Saudi with ‘DF – 21D’. But Chinese Analysts state that with Iran’s naval security being under threat if Saudi got ‘DF – 21D’, China had proposed Saudi to go for ‘CH-4’ drones instead.

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