China has granted export license for an unmanned combat drone which can carry several missiles and stay in the air for 60 hours at a stretch. The idea is to expand the country’s exports of military drones, which already covers 10 different countries.
The license came in the midst of interest evinced by overseas buyers for the Caihong drone, CH-5, as it is called, which has been designed by the state-run China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing. The 1,000kg drone can carry between 16 and 24 air-to-surface missiles in a single flight.
“Several foreign nations have expressed intentions to purchase the CH-5, and we are in talks with them,” said Shi Wen, chief designer of the Caihong, or Rainbow, at CAAA. Shi said the CH-5 is better than MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer drone of the US, because it “can perform whatever operations the MQ-9 Reaper can, and is even better than the US vehicle when it comes to flight duration and operational efficiency,” Shi said.
Pakistan, which has an urgent need to deal with terrorists, may become one of the buyers of CH-5, and this might persuade Indian military to expand its drone capability, observers said. Pakistan and Iraq are known to have used Chinese drones in combat to strike down on militants within their own borders.
Reports suggest that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE have imported earlier versions of Chinese armed drones, Caihong-3 and Caihong-4, or CH-3 and CH-4. Some analysts believe Nigeria and and Somalia may have also bought them. Beijing’s focus on selling drones to “poor and middle-income developing countries” has proven successful in carving out a niche in the market because consortiums from US and EU consortiums would not seek such customers, analysts said.
China will now encourage its old buyers to upgrade to the latest drone model.
The CH-5 became the mightiest military drone in China in terms of operational endurance and payload capacity after it made trail flights last August. It is made of composite materials and has a wingspan of 21 meters. Twice as big as its predecessors in the CH family, the drone can stay in the air for about 60 hours and operate at an altitude of up to 10 km, Shi said. Its current maximum range is 6,500 km, and a future upgrade will enable it to fly as far as 10,000 km, he added.