The command room of a Royal Air Force airborne early warning plane. Photo: RAF
The command room of a Royal Air Force airborne early warning plane. Photo: RAF

Defense contractors in the UK will soon start shipping equipment and technologies for airborne radar systems, with no cap on quantity, to the People’s Liberation Army, it was revealed this week.

The deal as well as related special export licenses were agreed by the two sides after British Prime Minister Theresa May’s state visit to China at the beginning of the year.

Citing information from Britain’s Department for International Trade, the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday that the deal for unlimited sales could encompass equipment, components, software and technology for military radar systems for target acquisition, weapon control and countermeasures systems to be used by the PLA Air Force.

Observers say the sales of radar gear and technologies with almost no strings attached signal London’s appreciation of Chinese state and private firms reportedly pouring no less than US$20 billion in investments into the UK last year, bucking the trend of capital flight as the country faces a hard exit from the European Union.

The technologies and equipment to be exported by Britain are unlikely to be its most advanced, though. Specific models or systems selected for export to China are also not known.

Chinese papers reported in October that Professor Hugh Griffiths, one of Britain’s top radar scientists and chairman of the Defense Science Expert Committee at the British Ministry of Defense, was officially recognized by Beijing for his contribution to the advancement of Chinese radar technology. Griffiths was give an “Outstanding Award for Chinese Radar International Development.”

The SCMP article also quoted UK radar experts as saying that China had shown “expertise and ingenuity” in space-based radar systems but “the UK is marginally ahead” in maritime and airborne applications.

But neither side is prepared to be forthcoming about their best technologies or systems, as London remains as a key ally of Washington and the US and UK share intelligence with each other, and while Beijing traditionally hides its strengths during military buildups.