UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Cai Hong CH Drones

A number of foreign nations are awaiting delivery of China's CH series military drones, one of the country's most popular products on the international arms market. The drone family, bearing the name Cai Hong, which means rainbow in Chinese, is considered by experts to be among the most lethal drones on the planet. By early 2016 the newest and largest capacity combat drone in the series, the CH-5, was awaiting government approval for export.

"The total value of contracts we signed in 2015 could definitely be one of the highest in terms of armed drone deals made last year on the international market," Shi Wen, chief drone designer at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing, told China Daily in an exclusive interview. He did not provide a figure. The academy, part of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, is one of China's largest military drone developers. Its CH series drones have been sold to 20 military users from more than 10 foreign countries and are the largest military drone family that China has exported, Shi said.

The early models, CH-1 and CH-2, are small, unarmed reconnaissance craft that have a proven record in locating and monitoring targets. The larger ones — the CH-3 midrange combat and reconnaissance drone and CH-4 mid-altitude, high-endurance armed drone — immediately attracted buyers seeking a powerful, affordable unmanned combat aircraft. "Our best-selling type so far is the CH-3, while the CH-4 has also received many orders," Shi said, adding that many more countries have expressed a "strong desire" to buy CH drones, but have yet to do so because of their sluggish economies.

Shi declined to disclose which countries have purchased the CH series, only revealing the academy's most valuable sale was worth "hundreds of millions of US dollars". China Space News reported in January last year that Shi's academy would deliver about 200 CH drones to domestic and foreign users. Earlier reports by Western media cited Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates as known buyers of CH drones. The first contract to export CH drones was signed in 2003 and fulfilled in 2004, when a South Asian country bought several CH-1s, Shi said. Since then, the buyer has become a loyal user of CH series drones and is negotiating the purchase of some CH-4s, he said.

"Foreign militaries bought our products because, first, our drones have strong capabilities and are easy to use. If you can play flight simulation games, then you can use our drones. Second, we understand what users really need," Shi said. Compared with their competitors, the CH drones have bigger payloads, which means they can carry more weapons, and a higher level of automation, so only a small number of ground controllers are needed, he said. The academy's designers researched the requirements of potential users and decided their military drones should operate at an altitude above 5,000 meters.

"We believe most of our users would use the drones to patrol borders, reconnoiter targets and hit terrorists or insurgents, who usually own small anti-aircraft weapons capable of striking planes flying about 3,000 meters above the ground. Therefore the 5,000-meter altitude is high enough to ensure the safety of our drones," Shi said.

The CH-3 and CH-4 are capable of firing missiles from about 10 km away from a target and can stay in the air for more than 10 hours. They also have a long life span, Shi said. "The CH-3 has a designed operational span of 5,000 hours. It is very good at long-duration, continual operation. One of our clients in Africa uses each of its CH-3s about 100 hours on average each month. It once used a CH-3 for about 300 hours in a single month, and the drone had no problem at all," he said.

The Rainbow series of drones includes multiple models with a maximum takeoff weight from 2.2 kg to 3.3 tons. It is the most complete military drone family in China, and has been exported to more than 10 countries. The addition of “Rainbow-7” will further improve the serial development of Rainbow UAV. Shi Wen revealed that the future Rainbow series of UAVs includes four major development directions: first, long-time and ultra-long-term voyage technology; second, high-speed and stealth technology; third, advancing the development of high-altitude drones; Focus on vertical takeoff and landing technology.

Will the future "Rainbow-7" also have a shipboard version? Wang Yongzhi revealed that the "Rainbow-7" currently being developed is mainly for landing and landing, and will have the ability to be converted into a carrier type in the future. At the same time, "Rainbow-7" will also improve China's ability to maintain maritime rights and interests after it is loaded with mission loads such as radar search.

At the November 2018 Zhuhai air show, star products such as "Rainbow-4" and "Rainbow-5" appeared again. According to experts, relying on the huge advantages of heavy load, long flight time and long range, "Rainbow-5" can carry a variety of weapons, is extremely flexible, can also be dedicated to civilian use, and demonstrates its role in marine maritime patrols. The "Rainbow-4" and "Rainbow-5" were mounted under the belly of the aircraft and were suspected of scanning the radar on the sea. The solar drone can provide a new situational awareness and information relay platform. It can also be used for land resource survey, environmental monitoring, and the function of replacing the communication satellite at a lower cost. Some hotspots can even be in the hot ocean area. A number of solar drones capable of continuous flight have been "hanged" over the long-term sea area.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 30-09-2021 14:49:11 ZULU