2012-05-25 (China Military News cited from asiasentinel.com and by Jens Kastner) — When the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force recently spotted a Chinese navy flotilla sailing into the West Pacific, what disturbed them was not just that the Chinese went through the Osumi Strait, a sea lane off Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture usually used by the US 7th Fleet.
The subsequent exercise spotlighted an apparent violation committed by a European Union member state against the bloc’s arms embargo against China. Footage released by the Japanese showed small unmanned helicopters apparently purchased from Austria that were parked on a Chinese missile frigate while another hovered above.The unmanned aerial vehicle in question, apparently the Camcopter S-100, weighs 200 kilograms, is powered by a 55 hp engine and can climb to 5,500 meters. It is produced by the Austrian manufacturer Schiebel, can be deployed for surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition and can be fitted with small missiles. Defense analysts are positive that the helicopters were supplied by the Austrians because the S-100 is among very the few helicopter UAVs, if not the only one, that can operate at sea. The Pakistani, German and French navies have already tested them successfully, suggesting that the Austrians have been taking liberties with the EU arms embargo against China.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense said the passage of Chinese warships through the Osumi Strait was the first such occurrence in nine years. Defense analysts believe the Chinese Navy’s motive, in addition to becoming a true blue water navy, is to familiarize itself with a strategically important part of the West Pacific. The channel the Chinese flotilla passed through is less fewer than 100 km wide, putting major Japanese cities in easy cruise missile range. In the event of a naval confrontation between China on one side and the US and Japan on the other, these waters would likely see combat action.
In the word of James Holmes, an associate professor at the US Naval War College, dual use goods such as the Camcopter S-100 can help the Chinese in this context, making perfect sense that they have been turning to EU nations.
“Our European friends have more or less renounced their ability to command the sea in favor of military operations other than war. So warfighting technologies are not their area of specialty,” Holmes said.
“But what they do excel at is noncombat missions and supporting technologies. This explains the Chinese interest in European seaborne UAVs. Such craft help out immensely with ‘maritime domain awareness.’ They detect who is out there at sea and what they’re up to and also help out with combat effectiveness at the margins.”
To the question that the Chinese navy might have procured the unmanned copters from another country, Oliver Braeuner, a China and security analyst at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute told Asia Sentinel that Scheibel is actually promoting the Camcopter S-100 with simplified characters only China uses.”
“They apparently take particular aim at customers from China,” Braeuner said.
However, the sale – if there indeed was one as the company neither confirmed nor denied it when asked for clarification – wasn’t necessarily illegal despite the embargo, Braeuner said.
“As opposed to other, newer EU arms embargoes, the one against China is merely based on a scarcely worded political declaration,” he said. “That’s why there are very differing interpretations within the EU regarding its scope.”
Braeuner singled out Sweden for its conservative stance, while pointing at Germany, France and the UK as nations that don’t particularly hesitate in selling so-called “non-lethal dual use goods” to China.