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The New Arab

Saudi turns to China to source weaponised drones

Beijing parades its drone technology to the world [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 September, 2016

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Saudi Arabia is increasingly turning to China to source weapons after the kingdom's combat violations in Yemen have brought its Western arms deals under greater scrutiny.
A Chinese aviation company has finalised the sale of an undisclosed number of lethal armed drones with Saudi Arabia, following a recent call by US lawmakers to postpone an impending arms deal.

Saudi Arabia previously bought a large number of drones from China in 2014, each marketed at approximately one quarter of the price of similar American drones.

The drones, Wing Loong Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance (MALE) drones, are made by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group.

The aircrafts were developed in China as cheap alternatives to western weaponised drones.

Some experts believe that Saudi Arabia has been looking more to Eastern weapons markets, following increased tensions with the US over a number of contentious policies.

These include the US stance on Iran and a controversial bill being pushed through Congress that could see the Saudi leadership held accountable over its alleged role in the 9/11 attacks.

The public mood in the United States on arms sales in the Middle East has also been shifting recently, as 64 congressmen sent a letter to President Obama last week, calling for a postponement on the sale of new weapons to Saudi Arabia.

"The actions of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are as reprehensible as they are illegal. The multiple, repeated airstrikes on civilians look like war crimes," said Congressman Ted Lieu.

"Hospitals, schools, and wedding parties are not legitimate military targets. Saudi Arabia is either intentionally targeting civilians or deliberately indifferent in executing its military operations.'

China has been selling drones to a number of countries in the Middle East in recent years, including Egypt, Iraq, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

A Wing Loong drone, belonging to the Pakistani Air Force, was also found at a crash site in Mianwali district, Pakistan in June 2016, following a routine surveillance mission.

US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia have tripled under Obama's presidency, as compared to George W. Bush's administration; $47.8 billion of arms were sold under Obama, as compared to $16 billion under Bush.

Looking to curtail any international arms race, US State Department officials last week began the process of implementing an international export agreement on the sale of drones.

Defense News reported that officials were trying to get their allies to sign drafts of a document called the "Proposed Joint Declaration of Principles for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)," at the Arms Trade Treaty conference in Geneva last week.

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