China will sell 48 high-end armed drones to its “all-weather ally” Pakistan in what a military observer said will be the largest deal of its kind, official media reported on Tuesday.
The cost of the major defence deal was not revealed.
Wing Loong II is a high-end reconnaissance, strike and multi-role endurance unmanned aerial system, capable of being fitted with air-to-surface weapons.
It is roughly equivalent to the American MQ-9 Reaper drone.
The drones will also be jointly manufactured by China and Pakistan, state-run Global Times reported.
Last year, China reportedly sold to countries like the UAE and Egypt the Wing Loong II at an estimated $1 million per unit, reports said.
China, an “all-weather ally” of Islamabad, is the largest supplier of weapon system to the Pakistan Army. Both the countries also jointly manufacture JF-Thunder a single engine multi-role combat aircraft.
The announcement by China to permit the sale of high-end military drones comes in the immediate backdrop of India’s move to acquire S-400 sophisticated missile defence systems from Russia. The deal was clinched during last week’s visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to New Delhi.
The Trump administration has agreed to sell sell 22 Sea Guardian drones to India. The country is reported to have received 10 advanced Heron drones from Israel as well.
The deal for the acquisition of the drones manufactured by Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company was announced by Pakistan Air Force’s Sherdils Aerobatic Team on its official Facebook account on Sunday, the Global Times report said without giving details about when the deal was struck or when the drones would be delivered.
The air force academy aerobatics team announced that in the future, the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industrial (Group) Company will jointly manufacture the drones, the report said.
Wing Loong II drone made its maiden flight in February last year, an earlier report by the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
A report in December last year said Wing Loong II has already obtained the largest order of Chinese UAVs in the overseas market, even before its maiden flight. But the report did not specify the buyer.
According to the report, the system is composed of the ground station and various number of unmanned aerial vehicles.
Within 10 months of its maiden flight, multiple live firing tests had been conducted in accordance with the requirement of its customers, including stationary targets, moving targets, time sensitive targets and air-ground coordination, the report said.
A deal involving as many as 48 Wing Loong IIs, if confirmed, would be China’s largest export deal for drones to date, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.
It makes sense the aerobatic team was closely involved with the deal, Song said, noting that the team is expected to train the drone operators.
The deal is trustworthy given the close military ties between the two countries and Pakistan’s need for drones, Song said.
US drones like the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper are technologically more advanced, but Washington limits their export, Song said.
Chinese drones will enjoy more success in the international market in the future, he said, as they perform similarly at a lower cost.
China still lags behind the US, Russia and France in total arms sales but it is catching up. Chinese arms exports rose by 38 per cent between 2008-12 and 2013-17, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks the global arms trade.