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Chang Hong-5 (CH-5)
combat and reconnaissance drone

China's new attack and reconnaissance drone, the Caihong 5, or CH-5 [ Rainbow 5 ] may be thought of as a Reaper "with Chinese characteristics". It bears a striking resemblance to the American MQ-9 Reaper — the primary offensive unmanned aerial vehicle used by the US Air Force. Shi Wen, chief designer of the CH series, said the CH-5 was as good as the US-made General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer drone often deemed by Western analysts as the best of its kind, But the CH-5 is no match for the MQ-9: The Chinese drone can carry only 900kg of weapons, while the US one can handle 1,750kg.

China is ready to mass-produce the CH-5 reconnaissance/combat drone, the nation's latest offering to the international armed drone market. The first mass-produced CH-5 made its debut flight, in which it was airborne for more than 20 minutes, at an airport in Hebei Province on 14 July 2017. Ou Zhongming, project manager of the Caihong, or Rainbow series of drones at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing, said after the test that several nations, including current users of other CH models and new clients, are in talks with the academy on procurement of the CH-5, which is believed to be one of the best unmanned military aircraft in the world.

The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics is the country's largest military drone exporter by the number of products sold overseas. Its CH-series drones have been sold to militaries in more than 10 countries, making it the largest drone family the country has exported, according to statistics from the academy. Shi Wen, chief designer of the CH series, said the CH-5 outperforms all of its Chinese-made counterparts when it comes to operational endurance and payload capacity.

Twice as big as its predecessors in the CH family, the drone can stay in the air for 60 hours, almost three times that of other Chinese models. Its maximum operational range is designed at 10,000 kilometers, according to Shi. The drone's 1-metric-ton payload capacity enables it to bring as many as 24 missiles on a single mission, strong enough to take out a convoy of armored vehicles.

China's heaviest-yet drone - comparable to the US Reaper - made its maiden flight, Chinese media reported on 31 August 2015. The Caihong 5, was in the air over an undisclosed location in Gansu Province for just 20 minutes. It surpassed the previous model developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation by 2.5 times in terms of carrying capacity.

The revelation came days ahead of the big military parade, which China held on September 3 to commemorate the defeat of Imperial Japan in World War II. Beijing announced that more than 80 percent of the military hardware it planned to display had never been shown to the general public before. Over 10 foreign nations, including Russia, contributed their troops to the grand event in Beijing.

The latest and heaviest drone in the CH family is the CH-5 combat and reconnaissance drone, which has prompted keen interest among foreign clients, even though it made its first flight in August 2015, according to Shi Wen, chief drone designer at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing. The CH-5 is made of composite materials and has a wingspan of 21 meters. It can stay in the air for up to 30 hours and operate at an altitude of up to five km. It can fly at speeds ranging from 160 to 220 km/h and operate 2,000 km from ground control if connected via satellite.

China's self-developed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) the CH-5, representing a world standard in size and weight, made its maiden flight in Gansu province on 01 September 2015. The maiden flight, scheduled in the early morning to avoid rush hour for civil flights, took 20 minutes before it landed smoothly as programmed.

The country's biggest UAV, with a wingspan of 20 meters, has a maximum takeoff weight of 3 tons, maximum payload of around 900 kilograms and an endurance of more than 30 hours at low- and medium-altitude. CH-5 is twice the size of its previously-developed counterparts. CH-5 is the largest reconnaissance and strike drone developed by the country according to the Chinese Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

The UAV will affect the way of dealing with anti-terrorist attacks in future, since its heavier loading capacity enables it to accommodate perspective radar to detect terrorists inside buildings or woods and communication-command devices to lead a drone fleet, said Ou Zhongming, head of the UAV project at the CASC. "It will increase the range of reconnaissance from 30 kilometers to 80 kilometers, which will discover targets over a longer distance and prevent any danger," Lan Wenbo, an official at the CASC told CCTV. The aircraft is designed to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, targeting, intelligence gathering, electronic warfare, border patrol, island defense and anti-terrorism missions.

While previous armed drones typically had a maximum takeoff weight of less than 1,500 kg, the CH-5 is able to fly with a weight of 3,300 kg, according to the academy's specifications. The larger capacity enables the drone to have more reconnaissance devices so it can detect a given target within an 80 km radius, said Lan Wenbo, a chief engineer. Shi said the CH-5 is capable of launching various air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs and will be able to conduct early-warning operations after an upgrade.

The highly anticipated CH-5 (Rainbow-5) unmanned aerial vehicle was officially launched on 03 November 2016 at the 11th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition (Airshow China 2016), being held in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, between Nov. 1-6, by its developer, China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA). The existence of the CH-5 has been known by the public since its first flight in September last year. But the official launch of CH-5 nonetheless signaled that it was another step closer to entering the service of the Chinese military as well as the international market.

The CH-5 is the latest UAV of the Rainbow series. Long endurance at middle-high altitude is what its developer keeps boasting. Shi Wen, the chief designer of the rainbow series drones, confirmed at the product launch that the CH-5 can stay airborne for 40-50 hours at a time and has a range of 10,000-20,000 kilometers while carrying normal payloads. When carrying eight AR-1 air-to-ground missiles, the airborne endurance will still be maintained at around 32 hours.

He said that the data already look pretty nice compared with its principal competitor, U.S. MQ-9 Reaper (formerly named Predator-B). "Hovering above a hostile region for that a long time creates enough deterrence. You can just imagine a drone carrying eight missiles and watching you from above non-stop for 24 hours," said Shi. He still insisted that a hunter-killer drone does not necessarily have to fly too high or too fast. Instead, an altitude of 3,000-5,000 meters is optimal for drones such as the CH-5 and its predecessors, the CH-3 and CH-4.

"The drone isn't like a fighter jet. It isn't meant for dog fights, but for continuous surveillance and launching strikes whenever necessary. Flying too fast or too high will decrease the chance of success since you should either extend the missile's range or descend to a lower airspace," he said, also explaining why the CH-5 uses a hot-bulb engine. By contrast, Reaper as well as Chinese Wingloong (winged dragon), a drone designed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), both use turboprop engines, capable of yielding higher speed and higher service ceiling at the cost of more fuel consumption and slower airborne endurance.

At the product launch ceremony, video footage shows CAAA developers talking about successful combat experiences of the CH-3 and CH-4 in undisclosed African countries, which naturally led to the question of who may be the potential buyers of this latest drone. Shi said all countries along the "Belt and Road," except the ISIS-haunted Syria, are potential customers for the CH-5. He also clarified that Chinese drones do not have to be "cheaper" than Western products to obtain more orders on the international arms market. "We may be a little inexpensive, but we do win by our reliability, not our lower price."

By one report it can carry a payload of 3 tons and is said to have wall-penetrating radar [a somewhat implausible claim]. The CH-5 is capable of carrying bombs and missiles and traveling up to 2,100 miles. By another estimate the UAV would have around 1.3 tons of weight for fuel and weapons. Accordingly, if the CH-5 carries eight AR-1s, it would leave around 700kg of space for fuel, providing the UAV with a combat radius of 1,500km. If the CH-5 is loaded to maximum capacity with eight AR-1s and two FT-7s, it would still have room for around 400kg of fuel, equivalent to a combat radius of 1,000km.

Sina refutes reports that the CH-5 is equipped with a domestic WJ-9 turboprop engine, noting that as it is a low-mid altitude UAV the CH-5 is more likely powered by a piston engine. If so, Sina suggests that the CH-5 could be matched with a Lycoming O-540 engine that has around 300 horsepower, though this would make it difficult for the drone to top speeds of more than 300 km per hour.

Made of composite materials, it has a wingspan of more than 20 meters, air-cruising time of more than 30 hours, takeoff weight of three tons. The long hang time enables the CH-5 to work in conjunction with ground-based radar for reconnaissance and search, thus enhancing the joint intelligence, monitoring and reconnaissance capability.

The drone’s chief designer, Ou Zhongming, said it can be equipped with wall-penetrating radar capability, which would allow it to track targets inside buildings. At the moment Chinese drones are not allowed to open fire without a ‘go’ from an on-ground observer. The technology has been widely used by the US during operations in the Middle East. “Terrorists have their hideouts. They can hide in a bush or in a house. That requires us to go through walls and identify the objects inside,” Ou said in a CCTV report. Another designer, Lan Wenbo, said Rainbow 5 can be armed with electronic warfare equipment that would protect other drones from detection and hacking.

China is the world's biggest drone producer by some estimats, but it focuses on the civilian segment of the market, and mainly toy drones that are sold on e-Bay. Countries like the US and Israel are leading in military applications of larger robotic aircraft, particularly weaponized ones.

According to experts, the CH-5 does resemble America's Predator and the magnified version of Reaper in appearance because that appearance has the best layout before there is any revolutionary breakthrough in aerodynamics.

But the CH-5 is not a copycat and has Chinese characteristics in many details. Its airfoil, aerodynamic trimming and turboprop engine are all different from the American product, indicating an optimized layout achieved by Chinese engineers based on a large amount of wind tunnel tests and precise calculations. What's more, CH-5 features "one-key landing", meaning that it can realize automatic takeoff and landing with a simple button operation.

Chinese experts held that CH-5 performs better than Predator but not as good as Reaper in a comprehensive comparison, but considering Reaper's larger size and heavier weight, CH-5 is still able to compete with it in combat capability. It's definitely a seeded player.

In July 2020 the Rainbow-5 UAV team went to the field to carry out project compliance and perform intensive flight missions. In this mission, Rainbow-5 drone completed the marine application functional verification flight for the first time. It verified the system-wide electromagnetic compatibility, load function, and platform performance for subsequent application demonstrations. The next step will be to test the true marine environment. Adapted to the environmental characteristics of marine missions such as high temperature, high humidity, and high salt fog. For example, all the connectors were replaced with titanium alloy materials that are resistant to marine environments.

The marine application Rainbow-5 UAV system is a high-altitude long-endurance large-scale drone built for the complex and changing marine situation and marine environment. system. The UAV system can carry loads such as optoelectronics and wide-area search radar, with wide-area reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities and multiple task load integration capabilities.

If the US will not sell Jordan what it wants, Jordan may turn to China's Caihong 5 or an Israeli drone, the Heron TP. "China recently unveiled its version of the Reaper drone, the Caihong 5, capable of carrying bombs and missiles and traveling up to 2,100 miles," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece 20 September 2015. "Jordan has expressed interest in buying the Caihong 5 if the U.S. refuses to export the Reaper."

Hunter, whose congressional district covers San Diego, home to Predator and Gray Eagle manufacturer General Atomics, has been vocal on the issue before. In February 2015, he wrote a letter urging President Obama to reverse a decision to deny General Atomics an export license to market the unmanned Predator XP to Jordan.

Even the head of Air Force acquisition agreed. On the heels of the Dubai Air Show, Bill LaPlante said the U.S. should act more quickly to allow allies to buy American weaponry, further citing the market threat posed by the Chinese. He cited drones specifically, saying, “Guess who’s [in Dubai] selling stuff? I don’t know. China?” … “Our partners are saying: even if [a Chinese weapon] doesn’t work, I can buy theirs, even if it doesn’t work well and works about a third of the time. It’s still worth it. Those guys are at war and it’s existential for them.”

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Page last modified: 01-08-2021 14:08:52 ZULU