The Wing Loong resembles the US MQ-9 Reaper. Photo: SCMP

Low-cost Chinese drone to be unveiled at Zhuhai show

Mainland enters lucrative global UAV market with prices well below US and Israeli rivals

China's latest domestically produced unmanned aircraft will make its public debut at the biennial air show in Zhuhai this week, taking centre stage in a global drone market potentially worth hundreds of millions of US dollars.

The Wing Loong, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made by the China Aviation Industry Corporation, bears a striking resemblance to the United States' larger MQ-9 Reaper, but is similar in size to its MQ-1 Predator.

The Wing Loong weighs 1.1 tonnes, is nine metres long and has a 14-metre wingspan, according to the Guangzhou-based .

It can fly at a maximum altitude of 5,300 metres and has a range of 4,000 kilometres, and can be used for both military and non-military operations.

Macau-based military affairs commentator Antony Wong Dong said the drone, with a price tag of less than US$1 million each, could find easy success on the international arms market.

"As the Wing Loong can carry two air-to-surface missiles, aside from featuring other UAV characteristics, such as being smaller and quieter than traditional fighters, dozens of countries, especially those in the third world, will have a keen interest in buying them," Wong said.

The Wing Loong's price tag makes it far cheaper than those made in the US or Israel - the only two other countries that currently have drone technology - even though they can perform many of the same tasks.

Scores of journalists flocked to Guangdong over the past couple of days to get an early look at the air show, although the six-day event will not officially open to the public until Tuesday.

"When so many countries are so keen to buy a dozen or so Wing Loongs and are ready to pay for them, the Wing Loong will become a focal point of the show without a doubt," said Wong.

Separately, a replica of China's second stealth fighter, which has been dubbed the J-31 and is said to resemble the US F-35, is expected to appear at the show. The event will also feature several long-range rockets capable of striking targets within 400 kilometres.

"Some countries buy the rockets and deploy them like strategic missiles," Wong said. Thailand, Turkey and some South American nations had already bought similar rockets from China, he said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Chinese drone to be unveiled at Zhuhai show