Want to buy a military-grade drone? That won’t be easy, unless you’ve got a good relationship with Beijing.
This week’s Paris air show highlighted the trouble with the burgeoning drone economy: While the technology is better than ever, there still aren’t many people who can legally buy unmanned vehicles. Civilian buyers still face restrictions on usage. US and European regulators are still mulling rules for drones to share airspace with planes and helicopters. And strict trade restrictions make it difficult for the traditional leaders in the field, US and Israeli defense contractors, to export their drone technology. Just months after the first sale of US drones to a non-NATO country, Germany cancelled the purchase of four Eurohawk drones after delays in certifying them for flight in Europe.
All the better for Chinese aerospace companies, which aren’t hindered by such rules. As a result, China could become a drones “proliferator” to developing countries, according to a report (PDF) released on June 13 by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.”Chinese companies appear to be positioning themselves to become key suppliers of UAVs in the global market…Chinese UAVs are likely to be attractive to developing countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, particularly given their price points,” the report concludes.