U.S., Israeli drone makers keep wary eye on rising Chinese

Cheaper Chinese military drones are chipping away at U.S. and Israeli domination of the industry, fuelling a new race as companies predict a rise in demand especially in regions such as Asia.

Chinese cut-rate versions of American armed drones like the MQ-9 Reaper have begun showing up in smaller African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries, signaling the country’s ambitions to take market share from incumbents such as General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.

At the Singapore Airshow here, state contractor China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) showed off two versions of its Wing Loong reconnaissance and strike unmanned aerial system (UAS). It was the drone’s first public appearance in Southeast Asia, according to trade media, and the booth drew military personnel from countries such as Myanmar and Malaysia.

These Chinese drones cost about $5 million versus up to $100 million for a U.S.-made system, making them especially attractive to less affluent militaries, said Ben Moores, a senior analyst for defense and aviation at Jane’s by IHS Markit.

“The factors are moving in China’s favor on a daily basis,” he said, adding that the Chinese option was also attractive to countries with less than cordial relations with the United States and Israel.

For instance, he said: “Global customers are very put off by (U.S. President Donald) Trump. Even though he is removing restrictions, any customer is going to think twice about buying American equipment because if you buy it and he decides he doesn’t like you for any reason, he cuts off your spares and you can’t run your platform.”

CATIC, a unit of Chinese state giant Aviation Industry Corporation of China, declined multiple requests for interviews at the airshow held this week.

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