December 27, 2018:
In November 2018 China offered for export its new GJ-2 combat UAV. GJ stands for Gongji, which is the Chinese word for male bird (cock) and in this sense, the meaning is “fighting cock” or “attack”. When this UAV was first revealed two years ago it was called the Wing Loong (Pterodactyl, a Jurassic period flying dinosaur) 2 and was described as an upgraded version of the original Wing Loong which made its first flight in 2007 and in 2008 was offered for export as a much cheaper alternative to the American MQ-1 Predator (that entered service in the late 1990s). But the shape of the Wing Loong was similar to the American MQ-9 Reaper, which entered service a decade after MQ-1, weighed nearly four times as much and was described as a primarily a combat (attack) UAV. The MQ-9 has since largely replaced the MQ-9 in the American military.
GJ-2 made its first flight in February 2017 and was described as capable of high altitude operations. That was demonstrated later in 2017 when a GJ-2 flew over the 8,848 meter high Mount Everest. GJ-2 specs give it a max altitude of 9,000 meters, top speed of 370 kilometers an hour and a payload of 400 kg (880 pounds) of sensors or weapons. The production model GJ-2 only has two hard points under the wings to hang weapons from which is sufficient to carry four BA-7 missiles (similar to the 50 kg Hellfire) or four 60 kg (132 pound) GPS guided bombs (similar to the U.S. SDB). As offered for export GJ-2 can carry a synthetic aperture radar, EW (Electronic Warfare), ELINT (Electronic Intelligence collection) or communications relay equipment as well as a vidcam pod. Endurance is 20 hours and GJ-2 comes equipped with a satellite link and the UAV can operate up to 1,500 kilometers from its base. GJ-2 has improved aerodynamics and a sturdier airframe that makes extensive use of lighter composite materials. This makes possible the high altitude performance which makes it useful for patrolling the Indian border, which is mostly with Tibet and over 4,000 meters high. There are improved flight control software and a more powerful and fuel-efficient turboprop engine. GJ-2 weighs over two tons (exact weight not made public yet) and is closer in size and performance to the American 4.7 ton MQ-9.
While the Chinese military has received some production model GJ-2s the main market is export customers. Pakistan and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have already ordered about a hundred and Saudi Arabia is negotiating a deal to obtain 300 GJ-2s. This alone would exceed production to date of the MQ-9. The GJ-2 is sold for less than half the price of the MQ-9 and there are no export restrictions on who can get it or what they do with it.
For several decades a growing number of Chinese commercial firms have been developing military UAVs and dual-use commercial UAVs. Unlike most Western nations, China will sell military UAVs to anyone who can pay and is not bothered about the use of bribes and other illegal (in the West) payments. If you can pay you can have it. For that reason, China has a lot of “unnamed customers” for its armed UAVs and does not release as many details of weapons export sales as other nations (like Russia).
The original Wing Loong 1 UAV has been around for a while. In 2008 Chinese aircraft manufacturer (AVIC) began showing off photos and videos of a prototype for a clone of the American MQ-1 Predator UAV that tuned out to be Wing Loong. In 2012 one was first seen in flight, over the capital of Uzbekistan, which, along with UAE were the first export customers. It was later revealed that development on Wing Loong began in 2005, first flight was in 2007 and Chinese troops got the first ones in 2008 for further testing.
While Wing Loong is similar in shape to the larger American MQ-9 Reaper, in size it's almost identical to the 1.2 ton Predator. Wing Loong weighs 1.1 tons, has a 14 meter (46 feet) wingspan, and is 9 meters (28 feet) long. It has max altitude of 5,300 meters (16,400 feet), max speed of 270 kilometers an hour and an endurance of over 20 hours. Wing Loong payload is 200 kg and can carry two BA-7 laser-guided missiles (similar to the Hellfire) or two 60 kg laser-guided bombs as well as a laser designator and vidcams. Wing Loong has been used frequently in Central Asia and the Middle East for reconnaissance and ground attack. For that reason, the original Wing Loong has been renamed GJ-1 and is still for sale.