Saudi Arabia Expands Collection of Chinese-Made Drones with WL-10B Acquisition
The high-altitude drone "Wing Loong-10B," soon to be owned by Saudi Arabia, was developed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) and will serve with the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).
(DEFENCE SECURITY ASIA) — Saudi Arabia remains one of the largest buyers of Chinese-made arms in the Middle East, emerging as the first export customer for the high altitude long endurance (HALE) drone “Wing Loong-10B” (WL-10B).
Developed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the “Wing Loong-10B” will serve with the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).
The Chinese delegation also brought the high-altitude drone to the World Defense Show 2024 held in Riyadh from February 4 to 8.
The WL-10B drone acquired by Riyadh is an export variant of the WL-10 used by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
It can reach a maximum speed of 620 km/h and fly up to 15,000 meters with the capability to stay airborne for 20 hours.
This Chinese-made high-altitude drone is equipped with various electro-optical equipment and weaponry systems, including guided missiles and 900kg bombs, such as glide bombs.
It can also be fitted with the YJ-9E anti-ship missile.
For years, Saudi Arabia has collaborated with the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) from China to produce domestically made armed drones for the country’s military use.
Since agreeing to acquire Chinese-made drones following King Salman’s visit to China in 2017, Riyadh and Beijing’s defense cooperation has expanded.
As a result, China agreed to supply 300 Wing Loong II armed drones to Saudi Arabia, with a significant portion of these drones to be produced by the wealthy Arab nation’s defense industry.
Before acquiring the latest WL-10B drone, Saudi Arabia already owned other Chinese-made drones, including Wing Loong 1 and Wing Loong II, widely used by the country in its armed conflict against the Houthi militia in Yemen.
In addition to purchasing Chinese drones, last year, Saudi Arabia spent $3 billion to acquire the “Akinci” MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) drone from the Turkish defense company, Baykar Technology.
The $3 billion acquisition of Akinci MALE drones by Saudi Arabia represents the largest defense contract in Turkey’s history.
The “largest defense agreement in Turkey’s history” was signed during Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Arabia last year.
The Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) announced that 70% of the components for the “Akinci” drones to be acquired by Saudi Arabia would be domestically produced, part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to enhance its defense industry capabilities.
Besides SAMI signing the agreement with the “Akinci” drone manufacturer, Baykar Technology, another Saudi company, the National Company for Mechanical Systems (NCMS), has entered into an agreement with the Turkish company Aselsan to develop electro-optical systems for the armed drone.
NCMS also signed an agreement with Roketsan from Turkey, which produces most of the weaponry systems for the “Akinci” drone and various other weapon systems. — DSA