Satellite images suggest that China’s drone presence in the Middle East is expanding.
A Chinese CH-4 Rainbow surveillance and strike drone can be seen at Zarqa Airport in Jordan in satellite images from Oct. 3, 2016, reports Dan Gettinger at the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. The photos indicate that Jordan is testing or operating Chinese drones.
— Dan Gettinger (@gettdan) December 1, 2016
The features in the satellite images correspond with those visible in video footage from July of a CH-4 test at an unidentified airport, which is suspected of being Zarqa Airport.
(The video footage of the CH-4 test at Zarqa Airport starts at 2:22)
A Chinese article published with the video reveals that an unspecified country with mountainous terrain, high summer temperatures, and an elevation of about 1,000 meters purchased Chinese CH-4 drones. The geography of Jordan generally matches that described in the Chinese article.
The CH-4, which is produced by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, resembles the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper and is known as the “AK-47 of drones.” The CH-4 is a reconnaissance and strike drone capable of carrying up to six weapons and is often marketed as an affordable alternative to American drones.
China sold drones to several Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, reportedly to help combat the Islamic State (ISIS).
The satellite images, video footage, and accompanying Chinese article appear to confirm certain long-standing suspicions that China is exporting drone technology to the Jordanians.
Jordan is one of America’s key strategic partners in the ongoing fight against ISIS. The U.S. has special forces in Jordan, and the U.S. operates drones out of a base at Muwaffaq Salti Air Base.
The partnership encounters setbacks though.
The Department of State rejected Jordan’s 2014 request for unarmed Predator XP drones, indicating that Jordan is not a strong enough ally to receive U.S. drone technology.
The collection of evidence gathered by the Center for the Study of the Drone suggests that Jordan turned to China, a rising player in the global drone industry, for drone technology.
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