U.S. approves Predator drone sales to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan
In the boring-but-important department, the US government has approved export of a modified version of the unmanned Predator drone to the Middle East and South Asia. First on the list of potential buyers? Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Prior to this, sale of Predators was approved only to the NATO bloc, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
According to Bloomberg’s Gopal Ratnam, interest is high:
“There’s interest from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates,” Frank Pace, president of the Poway, California-based company, said in an interview at the Farnborough Air Show near London today. The U.S. recently approved the company’s request for an unarmed version of the Predator drone for export to countries beyond the NATO block, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Pace said.
The company may sell as many as 100 of the so-called Predator XP models that is approved for export, Pace said. General Atomics has sold about 435 Predator series of drones. The average price of the plane ranges from about $4 million for the basic model to about $15 million for the latest Avenger version, according to spokeswoman Kimberly Kasitz.
“Saudi Arabia is a huge country and if they want to cover the country well they alone could get 50 aircraft,” Pace said.
The non-NATO Predators will differ from the full-functionality versions in several significant ways. Most importantly, they will lack the ability to carry missiles and will be crippled to perform surveillance and reconnaissance missions only.
Pakistan is currently embroiled in an ongoing insurgency against local Islamists while Saudi Arabia is widely suspected of involvement in the ongoing Zaidi insurgency in Yemen.
Drone aircrafts are in wide use throughout the Middle East, with both home-grown and foreign-purchased systems a common feature of all the region’s air forces. Turkey unveiled one of their own just last week, intended for use in the Kurdish insurgency.
Even non-government militias are armed with drones in the Middle East — Hezbollah purchases aerial drones from Iran.
However, Predators are considered among the best; General Atomics’ newest unmanned vehicles are almost undetectable by radar.
More importantly, the propaganda value in being armed with Predators — even crippled ones — is invaluable: Their missile systems are known for their accuracy.