China seeks South Africa's UAV technology

By ANDREI CHANG  |  Jan. 13, 2009 at 10:14 AM
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HONG KONG, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Chinese manufacturers have engaged in active discussions with South Africa in hopes of acquiring TV video cameras and second-generation thermal imaging cameras used in Denel's Seeker II unmanned air vehicle surveillance system.

The top military technology that China aspires to acquire from South Africa is without doubt the unmanned air vehicle. China's New Era Group Corp. had several rounds of negotiations with Denel on the possibility of producing in China two types of Denel unmanned aerial vehicles that were on display at the 2006 Zhuhai Air Show, called the Golden Eagle and the Seeker II.

China hopes to obtain the technologies to assemble these two UAVs domestically. However, according to a source from the Denel Group, negotiations on the UAV deals have come to a halt and the company has decided that unless substantial progress is made on these negotiations, the company no longer wants to spend time dealing with the Chinese.

Denel had a similar experience in trying to negotiate a deal with Chinese company Norinco for its Mokopa anti-tank missiles. The Chinese company expressed an interest in importing Denel's technologies, but once again the negotiations ended with no result.

Since 2007, Norinco has attempted to contact the Denel Group again, saying it wants to import the company's G5 155mm howitzer ammunition handling system. But Denel is not eager to enter into an agreement with China on this project; Chinese-made 155mm howitzers already have appeared in quite a number of countries in Northern Africa, including Algeria, Sudan and Egypt.

An official at Denel, speaking on condition of anonymity, told United Press International the company has successfully completed a deal with China for its 35mm multirole machine gun. This technology, in fact, was exported to China 10 years ago. China seems to have upgraded this 35mm gun to an air-defense machine gun.

China's New Era Group Corp. also has been negotiating with Denel for the transfer of African Eagle UAV technologies. The Chinese introductory brochure of the cooperation program claims the African Eagle UAV is capable of taking a payload of 500 kilograms, which could be six Mokopa anti-tank missiles or two Umbani MK81 precision-guided bombs. The theoretical combat radius of the African Eagle is 750 kilometers.

China also hopes to obtain the South African Angel high-altitude and high-speed UAV attacker system. This attacker UAV is capable of carrying precision-guided weapons and attacking targets 1,400 kilometers away. The UAV is also capable of carrying A-Darter AAMs to launch unmanned aerial attacks.

The Angel attacker and reconnaissance UAV is equipped with aperture radar and is capable of conducting tactical reconnaissance missions. It also can be fitted with Mokopa active laser-guided anti-tank missiles to attack armored combat groups.

Nonetheless, the official from Denel told United Press International that no substantial progress has been made on this project, indicating it may end up as one more failed deal.

It remains to be seen whether China's latest explorations with the company will yield technological information it can convert to its own purposes.

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(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

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