Source: The Washington Times | Published 7/2/2002

China Deploys Drones from Israel

by Bill Gertz

U.S. intelligence agencies have identified an Israeli-made anti-radar weapon deployed with Chinese forces opposite Taiwan, The Washington Times has learned.

Several "Harpy" drone weapons were spotted with Chinese military forces engaged in large-scale exercises in southern Fujian province opposite Taiwan, said defense officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"The Chinese were observed moving them close to the coast," said one official, who declined to say how many of the weapons were seen.

The Harpy is an unmanned weapon equipped with anti-radar sensors and a bomb. The weapon flies near a target radar for up to two hours and once illuminated by electronic waves is guided to the target and explodes.

U.S. intelligence officials said the Harpys identified with Chinese forces were equipped with anti-radar bomb systems and were not reconnaissance drones.

China's military has been engaged in large-scale military exercises opposite Taiwan for the past several weeks. At least 100,000 troops have been deployed in exercises near Dongshan island along the Chinese coast.

Doron Suslik, a spokesman for the division of Israel Aircraft Industries that manufactures the Harpy, declined to comment in an e-mail message when asked whether the company sold the drone to China.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment on reports of China's acquisition of the Israeli weapon.

The propeller-driven Harpy system has been in use by Israel's military for decades and was first used during the 1973 Middle East war.

The drone has a 6-foot wingspan, is 7 feet long and can loiter over a target for more than two hours before attacking. It has a range of up to 210 miles and a high-explosive warhead weighing about 48 pounds.

According to defense analysts, South Korea purchased 100 Harpys in 1997. The Indian armed forces also have the weapon.

Disclosure of the Harpy deployment by China comes as Beijing last week test-fired a new Russian-made air-to-air missile, which also is a new weapons capability for Beijing in its standoff with Taiwan.

Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military, said the Harpy is a new capability for the Chinese military, which also has Russian-made anti-radar missiles.

"This is only an offensive weapon, and on the Taiwan Strait it is a particularly threatening device," Mr. Fisher said in an interview. "Its only purpose is to take out Taiwan's electric eyes and ears and to make Taiwan vulnerable to Chinese missiles and bombs."

China has threatened to use force to reunite the island with the mainland if Taiwan's government were to declare formal independence.

Israel Aircraft Industries stated on its Web site that the Harpy system "is currently operational with several air forces, and is the only existing operation attack [unmanned aerial vehicle] system." The drone is launched from a vehicle.

Israel in recent years has become a major supplier of weapons and weapons technology to China.

Israel's government stopped the sale of four Israeli airborne warning-and-control aircraft known as Phalcon in 2000 under pressure from the United States.

In 1992, the Pentagon investigated intelligence reports that Israel covertly exported U.S. Patriot missile technology to China. Israel and China denied the reports. U.S. intelligence officials were convinced the transfer took place.

Several weeks ago, a Chinese government technical journal stated in an article that it is possible to defeat the Patriot anti-missile systems by calculating the "optimum ejection altitude for the cargo projectile to avoid its being intercepted."

U.S. officials said the article, which contained detailed technical specifications for the Patriot, such as speed and intercept capabilities, is a sign that China has obtained technical details of the missile system.

The United States deployed Patriots to Israel during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Former CIA Director Robert Gates said in 1993 that he believed that China had acquired the Patriot technology, but government officials were divided about whether Israel had secretly supplied it.

In another case of China-Israel military cooperation, a classified Defense Intelligence Agency report stated in 1999 that Israel was suspected of sharing restricted U.S. weapons technology with China related to a battlefield laser gun.

Israeli agents attempted to obtain embargoed weapons know-how from U.S. defense contractors on the Tactical High-Energy Laser, known as THEL, the report said.

The DIA also stated that Israeli officials from the government-run Rafael arms company obtained restricted technology from U.S. defense contractor TRW in 1996.

The suspicions about the THEL weapons-technology transfer to China were based on reports from U.S. contractors in Israel who saw Chinese technicians working with one of the Israeli companies involved in the laser program and from a Chinese official with knowledge of the THEL.

The Israelis had been trying to obtain the source codes for the laser's computer-targeting software so that the range of the weapon could be increased, U.S. officials said.

The DIA report stated that Israel Aircraft Industries had offered transfers of restricted weapons technology to foreign customers to try to conclude weapons deals. "IAI has transferred technology to China, possibly including U.S.-supplied technology," the 1999 report said.

The discovery is likely to raise questions about whether the weapons contain U.S. technology, defense officials said.

The U.S. government imposed an embargo on weapons and weapon-related sales to China after Beijing's military crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989.