"Beijing has made it abundantly clear that it intends to be the world leader in AI by 2030," Esper said. "While the US faces a mighty task in transitioning the world's most advanced military to new AI-enabled systems, China believes it can leapfrog our current technology and go straight to the next generation."
Middle East countries banned from purchasing advanced US drones due to a weapons embargo are increasingly gravitating towards Chinese defense manufacturers.
The drone sales are supporting China's expansion across the Middle East, which is home to many strategic US military bases, as well as, future and current routes for Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative.
"As we speak the Chinese government is already exporting some of the most advanced military aerial drones to the Middle East, as it prepares to export its next-generation stealth UAVs when those come online," Esper said. "Also, Chinese weapons manufacturers are selling drones advertised as capable of autonomy, including the ability to conduct lethal, targeted strikes."