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China's drones eyed by Asian, African, Russian buyers

Posting in Aerospace

Budget drone development from China has won the interest of buyers from developing nations.

As military technology becomes smarter and often more expensive, countries without the deeper pockets of the West are often left in the dust. A single medium to long-range subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile costs roughly $1.5m, and 50kg air-to-ground Hellfire rockets cost an eye-watering $115,000 each. Weapons aside, unmanned surveillance drones can be just as expensive.

However, Bloomberg reports that China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp. (CASIC), the largest maker of non-military drones, expects sales of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to double next year, as rows between sovereign states escalate.

At the Zuhai airshow in southern China's Guangdong province, aviation giants -- including rivals China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and Aviation Industry Corp. -- revealed their collection of UAVs, which included a number of military and civilian drone models.

Huang Xingdong, deputy head of CASIC's drone-making department said that the "government is attaching greater importance to ocean intelligence gathering as the islands disputes heat up". In other words, the territorial dispute between China and Japan has spurred on cyberwarfare technology development -- and the company fully expects sales to rise as sea-monitoring increases.

One new model unveiled by CASIC was called the Hiwing, which translates to Sea Hawker in Chinese. The firm's drones can fly at speeds of up to 700 kilometers per hour (435 miles per hour) and carry as much as 130 kilograms (287 pounds). The cheapest models cost less than $160,000 dollars.

The state-owned company has signed an agreement to provide a number of drones to an oceanic agency attending the show. In addition, Pakistan has already purchased several drone models -- with a price tag of roughly $1 million -- from CASIC, and buyers from Kenya, Russia and Myanmar also registered interest.

"The China drone market is not big, but it's starting an upward cycle," Huang noted.

This isn't the first time that military developers have turned to new techniques to bring the cost down. The March deployment of the APKWS II (Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System) made by BAE Systems is a smart version of a traditional 70mm rocket and cost $28,000 each, and the Forward Firing Miniature Munition (F2M2, or Spike missile), developed by the California-based Naval Air Weapons Station costs little more than $5,000.

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— By on November 16, 2012, 12:45 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure