Would you buy a Chinese UCAV?
Owning unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) seems to be quite fashionable nowadays. Indeed, all sorts of countries have been outed as users in recent months.
And who is supporting their habit? None other than China.
Whereas countries like the US are very strict about to whom they supply UCAVs such as the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator/MQ-9 Reaper, China appears to be not nearly so discerning. Another difference is that the US is not as secretive as China when it comes to the export of such technology.
The most recent revelation came about via the crash of an unmanned vehicle in Pakistan on 18 June.
It took quite a lot of work to find useful imagery of the crash site, but this TV footage is instrumental in helping identify the type of platform. The air intake at the top of the rear fuselage clearly reveals it is a Wing Loong 2 manufactured by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG).
It is more difficult to identify the wreckage as a Wing Loong 2 in other images, and in fact it even looks like they could be two different crash sites. One source explained that the wreckage was towed into a field, which seems a reasonable explanation.
The biggest surprise comes from the fact that Pakistan is flying the Wing Loong 2 at all, the newest-generation variant of this platform. The design was only unveiled at the Beijing Air Show from 16-19 September, and it was not known that it had even been released for export.
After taking off from PAF Base M.M. Alam in Mianwali district, the Wing Loong crashed 6km away. Officials said that at the time it was on a mission to assess flooding, which is plausible given how prone the country is to floods in the summer monsoon.
Interestingly, one publication cited an anonymous Pakistani defence official as saying the UAV was on an ‘experimental flight’.
Shephard reported that an earlier Pakistani crash on 15 January in Chiniot was also a Wing Loong 2. Thus, Pakistan has crashed two identical aircraft within a period of five months. That would certainly mean the country’s evaluations are covering an inordinately long period of time!
It also raises another point. Are Chinese UCAVs reliable, airworthy aircraft? This amounts to very negative publicity for CAIG if two Wing Loongs did indeed crash as surmised above. Of course, nobody is admitting officially that these were Wing Loongs, so all parties would like to keep a lid on it.
Pakistan is no stranger to UCAVs. The National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM) produces the Burraq (pictured left), which is based on the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) CH-3A. However, the Wing Loong 2 with six hardpoints and an external payload of 480kg, is far superior.
Pakistan has been using UCAVs in its counterinsurgency campaign in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Such vehicles are useful in terms of both surveillance and delivering precision munitions.
Of course, we can also mention the fact that the US has also been using UCAVs on Pakistan territory as part of its controversial prosecution of the ‘global war on terror’. That’s another issue for another day.
So who else do we know is using Chinese UCAVs?
Users of the CAIG Wing Loong family include: China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
If you or your government is a user, or planning to be one, let me know so I can add you to the list!