The state-owned Chinese company International Aero Development Corporation (IADC) recently launched an ambitious new expansion plan in Africa, according to Defense News. This includes an aviation training center, two regional marketing offices, two maintenance and support centers, and three spare-parts warehouses to promote sales and maintenance for Chinese-made aircraft. South Africa, Tanzania and the Republic of Congo are the main states where this expansion is taking place; warehouses in Zimbabwe and Kenya are also being planned. At the Aviation Expo China 2015 in Beijing last month, IADC’s General Manager Zhang Guangjian stated that this move is part of a larger plan to expand further throughout the continent.
IADC is a subsidiary company of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), one of the largest state-owned developers of military and civilian aviation technology in China. The company has been involved in the development and export of several People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) platforms, including the FC-20, the export version of the Chengdu J-10, and the FC-1 Xiaolong, the export version of the JF-17 Thunder. IADC was set up to promote exports of AVIC’s civilian aircraft.
AVIC already has a large stake in the African aircraft market. Countries as varied as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ethiopia, Namibia, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritania, and Djibouti operate AVIC planes. This includes dual-use trainer aircraft, including the Hongdu L-15 and the joint Chinese/Pakistani K-8 Karakorum.
AVIC says at least 80 percent of the trainer aircraft fleet operated by African air forces are Chinese-made. The new facilities established by IADC are supposed to help Chinese companies capture an even larger part of the African aircraft market. According to Zhang:
We plan to use these installations to help our civil aircraft industry expand its presence in Africa’s central and northwestern regions. Compared with Western counterparts, our aircraft have proven more suitable for operations in Africa because they are more adaptable to tough use and bad infrastructure.
Although Chinese companies dominate the African trainer market, AVIC is aiming to increase its exports of combat aircraft. At both the Aviation Expo China and the 51st Paris Air Show, AVIC showcased upgraded versions of the FC-1 and JF-17.
Another interesting item showcased by AVIC at the Expo is the brand-new Wing Loong II UAV. The drone is a medium-altitude, long-endurance multirole drone capable of performing surveillance and reconnaissance as well as air-to-ground strike. It is manufactured by AVIC subsidiary Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute.
According to Jane’s, the Wing Loong II is comparable in some respects to the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper. Both are powered by a single pusher turboprop engine, place their satellite communication system and primary optical system in the nose, and employ large V-stabilisers with a smaller vertical stabiliser below the empennage. However, its payload capacity, maximum operating ceiling and speed is significantly less than the Reaper.
Furthermore, the official Chengdu brochure picture of the Wing Loong II shows it carrying 12 air-to-ground missiles, probably the new 26,5 kg Norinco Blue Arrow. (It should also be noted that the UAV’s predecessor, the Wing Loong I, bears a close resemblance to the US MQ-1 Predator. This could possibly be as a result of Chinese cyber-espionage.)
AVIC is hoping that the Wing Loong II will help Chinese companies capture a larger part of the international UAV market. In an interview with Defense News, Chinese analyst Wang Yanan notes:
The advanced drone will help China obtain a bigger share in the international market because it will be one of the most capable military drones in the market. The Wing Loong II is equipped with a satellite data link system, so it can operate in an environment with bad ground signals, which means it can be of great use to nations that have vast mountainous areas or plateaus. In addition, the drone will be very attractive to countries that operate the Wing Loong I as they have realized the capabilities and reliability of Chinese-made drones.
China is already exporting several types of UAVs to states in Africa and the Middle East. Since 2011, China has also sold the Wing Loong I to several countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Nigeria, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, as Franz-Stefan Gady reported in The Diplomat recently, a Chinese-made Iraqi Air Force CH-4B “Rainbow” was recently spotted at the al-Kut airbase outside Baghdad. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has also purchased an undisclosed amount of Wing Loong I UAVs.