Na­tion’s drones are in high de­mand

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Max­i­mum cruise speed: Op­er­a­tional en­durance:

hours for strike task Take­off weight: kg Max­i­mum cruise speed: Op­er­a­tional en­durance: Take­off weight: kg Max­i­mum cruise speed: km/h; Op­er­a­tional en­durance: hrs Take­off weight:

kg

“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 140 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. 14 150 6 220 160 8 1,330 180 30

km/h; hours km/h hours for re­con­nais­sance;

20 3,300 220 12 220 30

Max­i­mum cruise speed: Op­er­a­tional en­durance: re­con­nais­sance;

hours for strike task Take­off weight: kg km/h hours for Max­i­mum cruise speed: km/h Op­er­a­tional en­durance: hours Take­off weight:

650

kg

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.

‘What users need’

“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. Larger ca­pac­ity

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 just made its first flight in Au­gust, Shi said.

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.

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.

“We have sub­mit­ted an ap­pli­ca­tion for the govern­ment’s ap­proval for its ex­port,” he said.

Shi Wen, chief drone de­signer, China Academy of Aero­space Aero­dy­nam­ics

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