Chinese Military Drone Manufacturing Facility a Part of the $65 Billion in Deals Signed between Riyadh and Beijing

In late March, various media outlets in the Middle East reported that Saudi Arabia had signed an agreement with China to set up a military drone manufacturing facility in Saudi Arabia as a piece of the $65 billion in deals that were reportedly signed during a visit by King Salaman to Beijing on March 16.  The facility will be the first of its kind in the region.  Other major deals made during the visit include an agreement to work with arms manufacturer and exporter, NORINCO, to build a refinery and chemical plant and plans to develop petrochemical projects with Sinopec.

The agreement for the drone facility was signed between the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and the military contractor, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).  This latest deal comes after another agreement was reached in February between the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (TAQNIA) and China’s Aerospace Long-March International Trade (ALIT) for the manufacturing of Chinese drones, although the connection between these two reports are unclear.

While the U.S. has been hesitant to supply advanced drones of this kind to other countries, Beijing has struck several such agreements.  Its primary export model, the CH series, is operated by Pakistan, Myanmar, Iraq, Nigeria, Jordan and others.  As of this writing, drones that would be produced at this new Saudi facility would be destined for the Saudi military, not other foreign buyers.  Saudi Arabia has a history of making strategic military purchases from China.

Thanks to the opening of the “Shenzhen-Hong Kong Connect” in December 2016, foreign investors can now purchase a stake in the CASC subsidiary responsible for the development and manufacturing of the CH series of drones.