The Middle East wants more combat drones to fight terrorists and wage wars. Saudi Arabia wants to boost its manufacturing sector to reduce its alliance on oil. A Chinese company is happy to oblige on both fronts.
A few weeks ago Saudi Arabia’s King Salman visited Beijing and oversaw dozens of deals worth as much as $65 billion being signed between the two nations. Among them were ones between Saudi Arabia and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC): Not only will the kingdom buy combat drones from the Beijing-based company—as it’s already been doing—but it will also let it establish a factory to build more such products in Saudi Arabia.
The factory’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be put to both military and civilian use in Saudi Arabia, and will be marketed to other countries in the region. Saudi Arabia already uses combat drones in its conflict with Yemen, which is retaliating with drone strikes of its own.
While the US has restricted sales of combat drones to maintain its military advantage, China hasn’t held back. CASC already has customers in not only Saudi Arabia, but also Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan. It sells combat UAVs similar to US ones but less expensive—and still perfectly capable of conducting reconnaissance and destroying distant targets.
Establishing a local factory will help CASC improve after-sales services for clients in the region, and help further improve ties between Beijing and Riyadh.