Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

China courting poorer countries - and U.S. foes, with promises of cheaper drones

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Drones, unmanned aircraft that can gather information and deliver deadly payloads, have sparked controversy here in the United States. More worrying still is the idea that China can knock off much cheaper drones and offer them to less developed countries such as North Korea and Syria. The idea of these unmanned planes getting into the hands of enemy nations would spread havoc among the U.S. and its allies.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Retired Chinese generals have declared on Chinese state television that Chinese drone technology lags American technology by about five years. Chinese manufacturers are touting their plans to build drones five or even 10 times cheaper than comparable U.S. drones, whose hardware alone costs $5 million to $10 million.

These far less expensive drones hold little appeal to such nations friendly to the west, such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia or NATO allies. These countries want to buy the best U.S. or Israeli drone hardware. China instead seeks customers in the Middle East and Africa at such weapons expositions such as China's biennial Zhuhai Air Show.

"In the area of the Middle East, there could be direct competition, and the Chinese would have an advantage because they can apparently make unmanned autonomous vehicles, or UAVs cheaper," Ian Easton, a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute. "For countries that don't demand the best technology, good enough would be good enough."

Even worse, Chinese-made drones could end up arming potential U.S. foes such as North Korea, Iran and terrorist organizations.

China already makes drones that don't quite match up to U.S. military drones at a far lesser cost. "In whatever future conflict scenario we're in five or 10 years from now, the proliferation of UAVs is going to complicate things for the U.S. military," Easton says.

Chinese manufacturers supplying the military and state agencies also have begun seeking foreign buyers in a global drone market that aerospace and defense market research firm Teal Group estimates to be worth $89 billion over the next 10 years.

Rampage nations such as Syria might obtain Chinese drones for the surveillance or oppression of their own citizens, Easton said. He added that Chinese drones also could end up in the hands of North Korea or Iran - regional hotspots where the U.S. military may potentially find itself embroiled in future conflicts.

Iran has already sold its own version drones to countries such as Syria and organizations such as Hezbollah, a militant group based in Lebanon and backed by Iran. China-made drones would also let countries like Iran and North Korea to obtain technology which Western countries refuse to sell.

"It's bad enough that China has that kind of capability, but the same capability could end up in the hands of the Iranians or North Koreans or a terrorist group like Hezbollah that Iran is cooperating with," Easton said.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)