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Winning streak: China hits stride in armed MALE UAV exports

China has emerged as a leading supplier of armed UAVs to countries that are unable to acquire Western-made systems due to cost or political inhibitions. Major Chinese UAV suppliers, therefore, are now offering solutions that are fully integrated UAV reconnaissance and strike packages. Kelvin Wong's report follows - shortlisted for 'Best Unmanned Systems Submission' at the 2021 Aerospace Media Awards...

 The export of weaponised, multirole, medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has been a consistent and prominent feature in China’s efforts to increase its footprint in the global defence market. At least 14 countries – including advanced and developing economies in Africa, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East – have ordered or taken delivery of a range of armed MALE UAV platforms in the past decade alone, with the list expected to grow in tandem with Beijing’s economic and military influence.

 The surge of export activity within this industry segment is being led by subsidiaries of state-owned defence primes such as the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which have developed successful MALE-class strike reconnaissance (chá dǎ yītǐ) UAVs such as the Rainbow (Cǎihóng, or CH) 4 and 5 and Wing Loong/Pterodactyl (Yì lóng) I and II UAVs that have entered service with the armed forces of Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

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