A review of commercial satellite imagery acquired between 2015 and 2017 by DigitalGlobe confirms that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is operating the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) Wing Loong I medium-altitude, long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Imagery shows the platform parked near an aircraft shelter at the PAF M. M. Alam airbase in Mianwali, Punjab. A report of the UAV’s possible deployment was published online earlier this month by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.
Previously, video and handhelds released by the Pakistani press in 2016 of a crashed drone near the airbase showed components that strongly resembled the Wing Loong I. The report was the first open source tip-off that Pakistan was operating the strike-capable UAV. Contrary to the Bard College report, a further review of commercial imagery confirms that Pakistan has operated the aircraft from the airbase since at least 2015. In fact, commercial imagery captured on 01 November 2015 shows two of the UAV at the hangar. Multiple Wing Loong have not been observed at the location since.
The Wing Loong I, Pakistan’s most advanced strike-capable UAV, has a length of 9 m, a wingspan of 14 m and a range of 5,000 km. Pakistan joins a handful of air arms in the Middle East and Central Asia who operate the platform. Additional strike-capable UAVs operated by the PAF include a derivative of the CASC CH-3, known domestically as the Burraq. Produced by Pakistan’s National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM), the Burraq was used by the PAF in its first documented drone strike in 2015. In addition to the PAF, the country’s Navy also inducted their first local Chinese variants in 2013.