Wing Loong II on display at the Paris Air Show 2017, with a range of Chinese weapons

Making its overseas debut here at Paris is the Chengdu/AVIC Wing Loong II medium-altitude long-endurance UAV. Looking uncannily similar to the General Atomics Predator B/Reaper, the Wing Loong II is intended for a similar armed ISR (intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance) mission, and follows on from the smaller, Predator A-like Wing Loong I.

While the Wing Loong II is dimensionally and visually similar to the Predator B, it carries less payload. The Chinese UAV has a 480kg (1,058lb) external capability, while in its MQ-9 Reaper version the Predator B can haul 1360kg (3,000lb) of external stores. The turboprop-powered Chinese UAV has an internal load of 200 kg (441lb), an endurance of 20 hours and a maximum speed of 370 km/h (230 knots).

Wing Loong II is being displayed here with a variety of Chinese weapon options. They include FT-9, FT-10 and LS-6 guided bombs, the YJ-9E missile with active radar seeker, AG-300/M, CM-502 and TL-2 air-to-surface missiles, and the Norinco Blue Arrow 7, the export version of the Chinese LJ-7. The use of twin-rack launchers on the six underwing hardpoints allows Wing Loong II to carry up to 12 air-to-surface weapons, a considerable improvement on the two carried by the piston-engine Wing Loong I.

Chengdu’s Wing Loong II project was first revealed at the 2015 Beijing Aero Show, and it was not long before some images of a primer-painted air vehicle appeared on Chinese websites. The type made its “official” first flight on February 27 this year, but development vehicles may have flown earlier. Nearly coincident with the first flight announcement was a separate report from the Chinese Xinhua news agency that the country had secured its largest ever UAV sale to an unnamed country. Supplying Wing Loong IIs to Saudi Arabia was considered as the most likely candidate, given that the kingdom is already a Wing Loong I operator.

Chinese armed UAVs have gained considerable traction in the export market in areas where Missile Technology Control Regime restrictions prevent the export of armed systems capable of delivering a 500-kg (1,102-lb) payload at a range of greater than 300 km (162 nautical miles). Although China is not an MTCR member, it did agree in 2004 to follow its export control guidelines. While that resulted in restrictions on the sale of complete missile systems, the country continues to export weapons-capable UAVs. Moreover, China was not among the 40-plus nations that announced a declaration last October to consider restrictions on the sales of UAVs to minimize the risk of them being “mis-used.”

This situation has resulted in some requests for weaponized UAVs from close allies such as Jordan and the UAE being rejected by the U.S., while China has benefited through a number of important sales to countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Hampered in their ability to acquire armed systems from the U.S. and elsewhere, countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan have already turned to China.

As well as Chengdu’s Wing Loong series, CH-3 and CH-4 UAVs from the rival China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) have been sold overseas with weapons capability. Earlier this year the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) announced that it had agreed with CASC to build CH-4s in Saudi Arabia. Separately, CASC unveiled its larger CH-5 at the 2016 Zhuhai show in China, this vehicle offering a 900-kg (1,984-lb) payload capability.