China floods UAVs into Middle East – diplomat | Latest Updates

As countries in the Middle East diversify their arms suppliers to meet emerging security challenges, China is poised to meet growing demand. However, Beijing is doing little to prevent its technology from falling behind Tehran’s proxies across the region.

According to US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf, unmanned armed vehicles (UAVs) used by Iranian proxy militias in recent years have been supplied by China. “Those UAVs that [Iranian] use behind the scenes, they are Chinese.” Leaf told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 4., Leaf said they were “not provided by the state, but the state does not attempt to reduce that flow.” After purchasing the drones from China, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) sends them to a dozen of its bases in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Iran-backed terror groups have adopted drones, including those provided by China, as staples in their arsenals. In 2019, the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen used drones to attack oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia. Two years later, Houthi drones attacked a Japanese-owned and Israeli-managed oil tanker near Oman. In August 2022, Iranian-backed militants in Iraq conducted a drone strike on US military bases in southeastern Syria.

In addition to hardware, Beijing supplies advanced satellite navigation and communications systems to Iran to enhance the drone’s performance. China’s BeiDou satellite navigation system, a rival to the US GPS system, underlies the guidance system of drones.

Iran and Pakistan are the only countries that have access to BeiDou’s military-grade signs, which are better than commercially available alternatives. Iran Electronics Industries, a state-owned subsidiary of the Ministry of Defense, entered into an agreement with China in October 2015 to access BeiDou.

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China’s military support for Iran dates back to the Iran-Iraq War, during which China provided weapons to Tehran. In the intervening years, China-Iran relations have made significant progress – most notably in March 2021, when the two countries agreed on a 25-year “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”. The deal will invest $400 billion to deepen bilateral economic, military and security cooperation.

China is cleverly taking advantage of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran by supplying UAVs to both countries. Fearing animosity from Iran, Saudi Arabia struck a deal with China in March to build a drone factory to produce UAVs domestically. Saudi Advanced Communications and Electronics Systems Company and China Electronics Technology Group, the state-owned defense conglomerate from each side signed the deal.

Riyadh has purchased Chinese drones since early 2014, when it acquired the Wing Loong II and CH-4 reconnaissance and strike drones. These specific models are copies of American drones, and both can carry a payload of two air-to-surface missiles.

Prior to 2016, China was not considered a major exporter of arms to the Middle East. However, today China has got ready buyers across the region. in his comments, the address noted that “The Chinese have gotten more than their foot in the door, precisely because of their virtual monopoly on drone technology, and they have spread it across the region.”

The UAE purchased Wing Loong drones in 2011 and 2017. Iraq placed an order for China’s CH-4B drones in 2015. Jordan bought the CH-4B in 2016 (and later experienced buyer’s remorse and tried to resell them). Earlier this year, Algeria boosted its airborne capabilities with the acquisition of CH-5s – the next iteration in the CH-4B series.

As countries across the region look elsewhere for suppliers, the United States has felt pressure to reiterate its commitment to regional partners. In JulyUS President Joe Biden addressed the Gulf Cooperation Council in Saudi Arabia and reaffirmed, “We will not go far and leave the void to be filled by China, Russia or Iran.” However, regional partners in the United States continue to seek both American and Chinese hardware.

Growing threats from Iran and its allies have fueled a drone buying spree. The changing strategic landscape requires greater investment in weapon platforms and defense technology to meet the contemporary security needs. The diversification of suppliers and solutions is central to the Middle East’s new security infrastructure.

However, Middle Eastern countries must tread carefully, lest they fall into an arms race organized by Beijing. China’s arming of Iran creates a vicious circle: Beijing aids and promotes Tehran’s terror, regional parties accordingly increase arms demands, and China makes it clear that it is ready to meet the demand. A cautious and limited diversification could prove to be a more prudent approach for middle-powers in the region who want to meet their legitimate security needs without over-reliance on China.

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