Reports Attribute Recent Libyan Strikes to Mysterious Chinese- Built Drones Operated by UAE.
An interesting photo of a heavily-armed Chinese-built “Wing Loong” remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) re-surfaced on social media on Monday, July 1 after being initially posted on June 30, then deleted, as it flew over Libya. The aircraft has been attributed, although not confirmed, to be operated by the United Arab Emirates.
The fascinating photo first came to our attention from the definitive resource for Chinese military intelligence in the social media space, Modern Chinese Warplanes on Facebook. Administered by author and subject matter expert Andreas Rupprecht, the photo made its way from the Twitter page of French aviation reporter Harry Boone, @towersight on Twitter. The photo is reported to have first appeared on June 30 and showed the aircraft flying over Tripoli.
…UAE’ Wing Loong over Libya ? pic.twitter.com/SlhzbPn669
— Harry Boone (@towersight) July 1, 2019
The Wing Loong drone and other very recent Chinese aircraft and defense developments are chronicled in Rupprecht’s definitive new books, “Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Air Force- Aircraft and Units” and also in “Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Army Aviation- Aircraft and Units” by Rupprecht, published by Harpia Publishing.
If you look closely at the photo, you can see this Wing Loong, also possibly referred to as a Chengdu Pterodactyl I, is heavily armed with a payload of what appears to be eight air-to-surface missiles under its wings. The angle of the sun illuminating the aircraft in the photo suggest the photo is either from the evening hours or from morning as the aircraft is brightly lit primarily from the side. The Wing Loong is likely carrying the Chinese Blue Arrow-7 air-to-surface missile, or BA-7. According to analyst and author Robert Wall as published in Aviation Week on June 12, 2012, “The semi-active laser weapon is designed for an effective range of 2 km to 7 km. It uses a tandem, high-explosive anti-tank warhead.”
A May 2, 2019 report by analyst and reporter Tom Kington on the Defense News website said that the United Arab Emirates has been using the Chinese-built Wing Loong RPAs to conduct precision strikes against Islamic militants in support of Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar. In his May 2, 2019 report, Kington wrote that, “Aircraft seen circling over the Libyan capital during nighttime raids in recent days were likely Chinese Wing Loong II drones operated by the United Arab Emirates, which is backing Haftar’s bid to overthrow the United Nations-backed government in the city, analysts claimed.”
The new Wing Loong photo and the aircraft’s operations over Libya are interesting because they add to the continuing story of China’s expansion of defense export in the region. Reporter Tom Kington quoted Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands as saying, “Buying drones from the U.S. takes time, is expensive and there is accountability, but buying Chinese drones is now cheap, fast and no one breathes down your neck — the floodgates are open.” Mr. Harchaoui has been a research fellow of the Clingendael Institute’s Conflict Research Unit since February, 2019. Harchaoui is a subject matter and research expert on Libya, including security and economic subject in the war-torn country.
Other interesting media that has surfaced recently of the Wing Loong’s operations include a little-viewed but high quality video on YouTube of what is attributed to be a Wing Loong RPA being shot down by Houthi militants over the northern Yemeni province of Saada on April 19, 2019. At the time it was downed, the report published in Southfront.org said the Wing Loong was carrying two AKD-10 laser-guided, air-to-surface missiles.
The aircraft was reportedly shot down using converted Soviet air-to-air missiles, such as the infra-red guided R-27T and R-73E, that have been repurposed as improvised surface-to-air missiles.
As with many recent Chinese defense aviation projects, the Wing Loong/ Chengdu Pterodactyl I remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is manufactured by the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute. It first flew in 2009 and was introduced to service two years later in 2011. Ostensibly similar to the U.S.-built MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator drones, the Chinese Wing Loong has reportedly been sold to the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Uzbekistan and Egypt. The aircraft saw combat in March 2017 after being deployed by the Egyptians.
The Wing Loong has been built in several different versions with continual upgrades. It has an impressive endurance of 20-hours aloft and a reported range of 2,485 miles (4,000 kilometers) and can carry a payload of 2,200 lbs (1000 kg) of weapons.