Chinese newspapers are reporting that Pakistan has signed a contract to purchase 48 Chinese drones in what the Beijing-based Global Times has called “the largest deal of its kind” for Chinese arms manufacturers.
The buyer, the Pakistani Air Force’s Sherdils Aerobatic Team, also confirmed the purchase on its official Facebook account. The value of the deal was not disclosed, but it is believed that the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China must have offered deep price cuts to close the sale.
Furthermore, the air force academy aerobatics team announced that in the future the Chinese drone-maker and Pakistani Aeronautical Complex Kamra would jointly manufacture the drones in Pakistan, following a memorandum of understanding signed on the transfer of related technologies.
It is understood that AVIC will dispatch a team of technicians to the South Asian country to help set up and test production lines there.
The drones tipped to join the Pakistani Air Force could be the Wing Loong II series newly launched in 2017, a reconnaissance and strike multi-role endurance system made by the AVIC subsidiary Chengdu Aircraft Industrial.
A deal involving as many as 48 Wing Loong IIs, if confirmed, would be China’s largest export deal for drones to date, Chinese military observer Song Zhongping told the Global Times.
In November 2017 Chinese media also revealed the formation of the first People’s Liberation Army drone brigade, whose drills involved trials of the Wing Loong series as well as of the highly maneuverable Yunying stealth drones.
Other drones like the Caihong series have also drawn orders from countries including Iraq and Saudi Arabia, according to AVIC.
US drones like the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper are technologically more advanced, but Washington limits their export, especially to de facto allies of Beijing such as Pakistan.
China’s drone-manufacturing industry has been expanding rapidly in recent years. This is due to increased research investment and extensive use of unmanned aerial vehicle technologies for everything from aerial photography, surveying and mapping to early warning systems and reconnaissance by the military.
The total market value of the nation’s UAV industry is tipped to grow by 40% a year on average to 60 billion yuan (US$9.1 billion) by 2020, Xinhua reported earlier this year, citing a report by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.