Warplanes: Chinese UAVs Of Arabia

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May 17, 2014: Unable to obtain armed Predator UAVs from the United States, Saudi Arabia has turned to China and is buying some (exact quantity not made public) of Chinese Wing Loong UAVs, each equipped to carry two BA-7 laser guided missiles (similar to the Hellfire) or two 60 kg (110 pound) GPS guided bombs (similar to the U.S. SDB).

Since 2008 Chinese aircraft manufacturer (AVIC) has been showing off photos and videos of a prototype for a clone of the American MQ-1 Predator UAV, called the Wing Loong (that's Chinese for Pterodactyl, a Jurassic period flying dinosaur). In 2012 one has actually been seen in flight, over the capital of Uzbekistan, which, along with UAE (United Arab Emirates) were the first export customers. It was later revealed that development on Wing Loong began in 2005, first flight was in 2007 and Chinese troops got the first ones in 2008 for further testing.

While Wing Loong is similar in shape to the larger American MQ-9 Reaper, in size it's almost identical to the 1.2 ton Predator. Wing Loong weighs 1.1 tons, has a 14 meter (46 feet) wingspan, and is 9 meters (28 feet) long. It has max altitude of 5,300 meters (16,400 feet) and an endurance of over 20 hours. Payload is 200 kg.

Promotional pictures of the Wing Loong show it carrying two Blue Arrow (BA) 7 missiles. Since 2012 China has offered this air-to-surface missile for export. BA-7 is very similar to the American Hellfire. Each Blue Arrow 7 weighs 47 kg (103 pounds) and is basically a laser guided anti-tank missile with a max range of 7,000 meters. China offers the Blue Arrow 7 at a lower (at least a third lower) price than the $70,000 Hellfire and is willing to negotiate. The Blue Arrow 7 is priced to sell.

The AGM-114 (Hellfire II) missile uses either an armor-piercing or blast/fragmentation (for use against non-armored targets and bunkers) warhead. The ones fired from UAVs usually have the blast warhead. The Hellfire II weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds), carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead, and has a range of 8,000 meters. The Hellfire has been in service for three decades.

Wing Loong was not the only available UAV the Saudis could have bought. Israel is a leader in UAV design and second only to the United States as a manufacturer. But it’s politically unacceptable for any of the Arab states Gulf state to buy military equipment from Israel, or at least anything that would be seen in public. At least one other Persian Gulf Arab state is believed to have ordered Wing Loong and others may be negotiating.

 


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