This article explores the rising market for cheaply produced (but lethal) Chinese drones. This booming geography is a result of the few restrictions the Chinese place on exports–unlike U.S.-manufactured armed drones, which have only been sold to a small number of U.S. allies.
Chinese exports are now helping to loosen the door policy of the once-exclusive club of countries with drones capable of destroying targets on the ground. Unmanned Chinese aircraft like the armed Caihong, or “Rainbow,” series of drones are fast becoming the Kalashnikovs of the drone world — entry-level alternatives for countries eager to achieve a basic unmanned strike capability quickly and cheaply.
Turns out there are a lot of eager buyers. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt have bought armed Chinese drones, as have Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iraq. Actually using the robotic aircraft hasn’t always gone smoothly: Nigeria’s armed CH-3, short for “Caihong-3,” drones first became public when one of them surfaced in photos of a crash in the northeastern part of the country, though it’s unclear whether the aircraft went down due to technical problems or ground fire. Two CH-4 drones also reportedly crashed in Algeria while undergoing testing by the Algerian military, which has been weighing a purchase.