Since the Obama administration’s ban on the sale of US-manufactured unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) to Middle East countries, China has focused on filling the gap in this important market.
Not only has it sold highly capable UCAVs to Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, now it is opening a UCAV production facility in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).
Initially, the facility will produce the Reaper-like CH-4B and assemble the more advanced Wing-Loong II. The Royal Saudi Air Force has an urgent requirement to use the latter in its Operation Restoring Hope battle against the Houthi force in Yemen.
Last May, KACST unveiled the indigenous Saqr 1 medium-range UCAV. Equipped with a satellite communications (SATCOM) system and an autonomous take-off and landing capability, it is made from lightweight carbon and glass fibre materials to reduce its fuel consumption.
Powered by a 113.3hp (84.5kW) Rotax 914 engine, the Saqr 1 has a range of 1,553 miles (2,500km), an endurance of 24 hours, and a ceiling of 22,000ft (6,700m). It can carry a 880lb (400kg) payload, including sensors and laser-guided missiles, such as the Chinese AR-1 ground-attack weapon, and FT-1 precision-guided bombs with a range of up to 6.2miles (10km).
In addition to Chinese design assistance, the KACST can also draw on the expertise of the Prince Sultan Advanced Tech Research Institute (PSATRI), which was founded by King Saud University (KSU) and the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF)