Skip to content

UK Think Tank: China A Key Supplier of Armed Drones to the Middle East

On Monday December 17, 2018, a UK defense think tank, The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published a report, “Armed Drones in the Middle East, Proliferation and Norms in the Region.” A key finding of the report was that, “despite the selective drone export policy that the U.S. upholds, over the past few years, several countries across the Middle East (Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) have acquired armed drones either by purchasing them from China or (Israel, Iran, and Turkey) by building them domestically.”

“China has often been described as a no-questions-asked exporter of drones, a country that is ‘less encumbered by human rights considerations over its sales of drones.’ The country is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR – – an informal and voluntary partnership among 35 countries to prevent the proliferation of missile and unmanned aerial vehicle technology capable of carrying above 500 kg payload for more than 300 km.).”

“Beijing has capitalized on a gap created in the market. Over the past few years, it has supplied armed drones to several countries that are not authorized to purchase them from the US, and at a dramatically cheaper price.”

The report states, “It remains to be seen whether and how the loosening of restrictions that the current U.S. administration has imposed on the exportation of armed drones will alter the dynamics in the region. Nonetheless, the proliferation of armed UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) in the Middle East is unlikely to stop and could, in fact, even accelerate, either through domestic production or through reliance on external suppliers, such as Beijing.”

In recent years, China’s UAV manufacturing technology has improved rapidly, causing widespread concern in the international community. In November, the official Chinese news agency quoted Lei Qiang, a chief drone pilot of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) who stated that, although the Chinese drone started late, it has developed rapidly in recent years. Both technology and production have seen great improvement. China’s “UAV development ranks among the world’s top echelons.”

Source: Royal United Services Institute, December 17, 2018
Xinhua, November 7, 2018