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China is gaining a bigger share in the international military drone market, with at least one new buyer for its homegrown Wing Loong unmanned aerial vehicle reported this week, according to a senior executive in a State-owned aviation company.
"More than two clients are using Wing Loong, and they have told us that they are very satisfied with the drone's capability and performance," said Ma Zhiping, general manager of China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp.
He made the comments at the 15th Aviation Expo/China, which opened in Beijing on Wednesday and lasts four days.
Ma's company is the biggest exporter of aviation defense products in China and has a strong presence in the global military aircraft market. It belongs to Aviation Industry Corp of China, the country's leading aircraft manufacturer.
Ma said during the Paris Air Show in June that two nations had bought Wing Loong drones. His latest remarks indicate the drone has been delivered to a third or perhaps more foreign users.
"We have allocated considerable resources to boost the sales of our UAVs, and our efforts are proving effective and fruitful," he said. "Many of our traditional clients are negotiating with us on importing Wing Loong, and they are joined by several nations that have not purchased Chinese aircraft."
According to CATIC, Wing Loong was developed independently by China with full intellectual property rights, meeting the requirements of the international market. The project was started in 2005 and the maiden flight took place in 2007.
"Compared with manned aircraft, drones have simpler requirements for landing facilities and piloting environment, and they can perform a wide variety of tasks, such as precision strikes, reconnaissance, border patrol and anti-terrorist operations. Therefore, they appeal to a number of our traditional clients," Ma said.
Chinese drones such as the Wing Loong have huge potential as exports, according to Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine.
"More and more countries have realized the advantages and the wide range of uses of drones, and most of them have to import drones," Wang explained.
"Since they basically need small- and medium-sized drones, which have lower technical requirements and involve hardly any sensitive technologies, China is able to do well in tapping into this market."
In addition, China has a well-developed industry chain for the avionics, propulsion and flight control systems used in drones. This means China is able to provide reliable and affordable alternatives for those who have difficulty in buying drones from Western nations, said Wang.
He continued: "Chinese drones are technologically close to those of the United States and Israel but have a more competitive price."
Wang's remarks were echoed by Kimberly Hsu, policy analyst for military and security affairs at the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, who said in a recent report that China's "inexpensive and multifunctional" unmanned aerial systems are preparing to grab the international UAV market away from the US and Israel.
"China's unmanned aerial vehicle industry is diversifying and expanding. ... Surging domestic and international market demand for UAVs, from both military and civilian customers, will continue to buoy the growth of the Chinese industry," Hsu said.
However, China is not indiscriminative in choosing buyers for its drones, according to Ma.
"The Chinese government and all of its arms exporters implement a set of strict controls on weapons trading and our businesses stick to the regulations from both the United Nations and China," he said. "Western countries needn't be worried. They sell drones just like we do."
In addition to Chinese drones, J-10, an advanced Chinese fighter jet, has also been targeted by a host of foreign countries, Ma said.
These potential buyers are from Asia, Africa and South America, Ma said, without giving any further details. He added that some Middle East countries are also interested in the plane.
The J-10 is a third-generation, multi-role fighter aircraft designed and produced by Aviation Industry Corp of China and regarded by military experts as very advanced and comparable to the latest variant of the US' F-16 Fighting Falcon.
"Some of the potential buyers are traditional users of Russian or French aircraft," he noted. "We expect a huge market for the J-10 as the government has been accelerating approval procedures for the export of our new-type aircraft."