CONTENT PREVIEW
Air Platforms

UAE revealed as Wing Loong II launch customer

26 January 2018

Key Points

  • Satellite imagery indicates the UAE is the unnamed Wing Loong II customer
  • Three UAVs matching Wing Loong II dimensions were at Qusahwirah Air Base in October 2017

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) air force has almost certainly acquired the AVIC Wing Loong II medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Satellite imagery shows three UAVs matching the Wing Loong II’s dimensions at the UAE’s remote Qusahwirah Air Base near the border with Oman and Saudi Arabia on 22 October 2017.

The three UAVs seen at Qusahwirah on 22 October 2017 were almost certainly Wing Loong IIs. (© 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc)The three UAVs seen at Qusahwirah on 22 October 2017 were almost certainly Wing Loong IIs. (© 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc)

According to AVIC, the strike-capable Wing Loong II has a length of 11 m and a wingspan of 20.5 m. The dimensions and capabilities of the platform compare closely with the US-built MQ-9 Reaper. The UAE does not possess the MQ-9, nor does Jane’s have knowledge of foreign MQ-9s operating from Qusahwirah, suggesting the UAVs visible in the imagery are Wing Loong IIs.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported on 28 February 2017 that AVIC had secured a major export order for the Wing Loong II from an unidentified country even before the aircraft had taken its first flight, which happened a day earlier.

The report gave no indication when the customer would receive its first UAVs, but AVIC announced earlier in January that intensive testing during the previous 10 months had shown that the system “has met user requirements and possesses full operational capability”. This involved simultaneously controlling two aircraft from the same ground station.

Never publicly acknowledged by the UAE, Qusahwirah Air Base has been a mystery since Google Earth released the first satellite imagery of the expanded facility.

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