China’s CH-5 combat/reconnaissance drone, touted by Chinese experts as a competitor to the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, may have found its first international customer following Beijing giving the green signal for the drone’s export.
"Several foreign nations have expressed intentions to purchase the CH-5, and we are in talks with them," Shi Wen, chief designer of the Caihong, or Rainbow, series at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing was quoted as saying by the official China Daily ahead of the Air Show China 2016.
However, the grant of export licence amidst reports that an African country could be the first customer shows that the situation may have gone beyond mere “talks.”
The CH-5 "can perform whatever operations the MQ-9 Reaper can, and is even better than the U.S. vehicle when it comes to flight duration and operational efficiency," Shi said adding that it can work autonomously or part of a network of CH-5 or earlier CH models of drones.
Besides, the CH-5 is able to carry an airborne early warning system to act as a platform for regional surveillance, and battlefield command and control. It also can carry electronic warfare instruments to collect electronic intelligence and to jam enemy communications or radars.
Chinese experts have been quick to compare the CH-5 with the MQ-9 Reaper calling the American UAV as the best hunter-killer drone in the world and that their CH-5 is better than the best. China is hawking its drone to markets which cannot afford the American drone or to those who cannot get US export clearance for political reasons.
Countries in Africa and the Middle East have been the prime sales targets for Chinese military drones.
The CH-5, has a wingspan of 21 meters, 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. The CH-5’s payload capacity is 1,000 kg including 16 air-to-surface missiles.
While the MQ-9 Reaper has been successful in hitting terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it propensity for collateral damage has come in for severe criticism. One hopes the Chinese CH-5 does not share this dubious feature.