The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) will acquire the Wing Loong-10B (WL-10B) unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). The drone was displayed at the World Defense Show that concluded in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on February 8.
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Chinese drones featured prominently at the exhibition, where Beijing’s state-owned and private defense technology companies showcased various military products.
KSA has been operating the Wing Loong-2 (WL-2) drone since 2017. Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group displayed the WL-2 with the Saudi flag printed on its rear wing (vertical stabilizer).
The WL-2 can carry 480 kg (1,058 lb) of weapons for up to 32 hours. According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the drone would have been used in the Yemeni civil war against the Houthi militia.
WL-10B in Western Asia
Drones have become increasingly crucial in regional conflicts, used by both state and non-state actors, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, Israel and Iran. KSA’s acquisition of the WL-10B enables extensive aerial surveillance and reconnaissance missions over land and sea, especially when armed with bombs and guided air-to-surface missiles.
It is unknown if the RSAF has also selected these munitions for their WL-10B, but it is unlikely that they want that strike capability either. While Saudi Arabia has normalized its ties with Iran through a Chinese-brokered deal, its peace with the Houthis (also known as Ansarallah) remains fragile at best.
The group also enjoys considerable autonomy from Iran and could independently decide to resume hostilities with Riyadh, which might seem unlikely given the high risks Tehran, Riyadh and Beijing face in avoiding another major war.
A rear-mounted turbojet engine powers the WL-10B and places it firmly in the high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) class as a reconnaissance attack unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). It has a low-wing configuration, which almost looks like a fused wingbody airframe. The ‘B’ designation is a classification of the export version of the WL-10.
The protrusion on the forward dorsal part of the fuselage can house a link for satellite navigation (SATNAV) and radio control antennas to connect with the ground control station. It has a tricycle landing gear and a V-shaped tail assembly aided by rudders that control the surfaces of the aerial vehicle.
Janes noted that the engine intake is trapezoidal in shape and has a hidden exhaust. The UCAV has a communication antenna and ultra/very high frequency (U/VHF) data links.
Surprisingly, it is not shown as a standard electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) system with turret and rotating platform under the nose, as is a standard feature with UAVs. It could be installed in the configuration to be sold to the Saudi military during manufacturing/assembly at the Aviation Industry of China (AVIC) factory.
The UAV can reach a maximum speed of 620 kilometers per hour and fly at 15,000 meters for approximately 20 hours. It can carry 900 kg of air-to-ground munitions, including rocket-propelled gliding missiles and YJ-9E light anti-ship missiles.
Other reports cite Chinese defense officials confirming that Beijing also operates the WS-10 in its military, explaining why KSA quickly decided to acquire it. A weapons platform that is already in service with the armed forces of the developer/seller country is a big selling point. It conveys to buyers that the gun has practical military utility along with a steady supply of after-sales service and spare parts availability.
Chinese defense companies eclipsed Russia and the United States
But what was notable was China’s strong presence at the defense exhibition, which even eclipsed its Russian and American counterparts, marking its rise to credible status as a defense aerospace power.
Breaking Defense said in coverage of the World Defense Show: “American defense companies may have come in droves to show off their products, led by the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, but Chinese companies claimed the largest acreage outside the host country. Saudi Arabia.”
Beijing also held an aerial demonstration for the first time, with J-10 fighters from the Ba Yi Aerobatic Team of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
Data shared by organizers indicated that China’s space – much of it in a “Defense China” staging area – amounted to 4,668 square meters (more than 50,000 square feet), the largest of any international guest, per ahead of Turkey with its huge presence of 4,355. square meters and the United States with 3,335. Russia accompanied it with just over 800 square meters.