Bombs away

Ma­jor mar­kets beckon as China tests so­lar-pow­ered UAV

Global Times - - Front Page - By Ma Jun and Deng Xiaoci

China’s new gen­er­a­tion so­lar­pow­ered un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle (UAV), Cai­hong (CH), or Rain­bow, has suc­cess­fully run a live-am­mu­ni­tion test un­der ex­treme en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions re­cently, said the Bei­jing Aerospace Propul­sion In­sti­tute (No. 11 In­sti­tute) un­der the China Aerospace Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Cor­po­ra­tion (CASC) on Jan­u­ary 31.

The CH UAV project team told the Global Times in Fe­bru­ary that the en­hanced vari­ant of the CH-4 con­ducted a six-day in­ten­sive bomb­ing test for the first time in North­west China un­der ex­treme weather con­di­tions in­clud­ing bliz­zards and dark­ness in Jan­u­ary.

The new CH drone has a bet­ter load­ing and power sup­ply ca­pa­bil­ity, and due to its mul­ti­ple mount points de­sign, it can carry a mix­ture of weapons and can shoot dif­fer­ent types of guided mis­siles un­der dif­fer­ent weather con­di­tions, meet­ing the stan­dards of a sur­gi­cal strike, said the re­search team.

For ex­am­ple, it can guide 50-kilo­gram clus­ter bombs in or­der to ef­fec­tively com­plete mis­sions in­clud­ing re­gional block­ades and at­tacks on en­emy air­ports. The 50-kilo­gram satel­lite-guided bombs can also deal a deadly blow on the en­emy po­si­tion from higher airspace, while the 100-kilo­gram satel­lite-guided weapon can launch sur­prise at­tacks on tar­gets from more than 10 kilo­me­ters away.

More com­pat­i­ble

Song Zhong­ping, a Chi­nese mil­i­tary ex­pert and a TV com­men­ta­tor, high­lighted the new CH ve­hi­cle’s high com­pat­i­bil­ity with dif­fer­ent types of guided weapons on Fe­bru­ary 4, say­ing this kind of ad­van­tage could win China a more promis­ing in­ter­na­tional mar­ket share in the field of UAV.

The ef­fec­tive­ness of all guided weapons, whether they are laser- or satel­lite- guided, can be se­ri­ously af­fected by weather con­di­tions such as smog or jam­ming ef­forts from the en­emy. How­ever, as the CH new model can carry var­i­ous types of weapons, it can break through th­ese lim­its and work well any­where in all weath­ers, Song ex­plained.

The re­sults of the Jan­u­ary liv­er­ound test has proven that the new

CH UAV has met de­sign and am­mu­ni­tion stan­dards, said the re­search team, adding that the new tech­nolo­gies on the tested UAV will be ap­plied to the next gen­er­a­tion of CH-4C drones in the fu­ture.

China’s CH UAV, the coun­try’s first near-space so­lar drone, suc­cess­fully con­ducted a flight at an al­ti­tude of 20 km in June 2017, Xin­hua News Agency re­ported.

The project team un­der CASC an­nounced af­ter the event on June 13 that the CH UAV flew smoothly in near space for over 15 hours through re­mote con­trol, com­plet­ing its sched­uled path be­fore land­ing se­curely.

Near space, which lies 20 to 100 km above sea level, con­tains thin air that re­duces the per­for­mance of tra­di­tional fuel-pow­ered air­craft en­gines.

How­ever, so­lar drones like the CH UAV can per­form well in this re­gion and is able to fly con­tin­u­ously for months or even longer in the fu­ture, said Li Guangjia, di­rec­tor of the project.

Cost ef­fi­cient

The CH UAV, with a wing­span of 45 me­ters and equipped with so­lar pan­els, boasts a high cost ef­fi­ciency as it does not re­quire re­fu­el­ing dur­ing long-term mis­sions, said Shi Wen, chief en­gi­neer of the project.

The CH UAV will per­form as a “quasi-satel­lite” in the fu­ture, and has the abil­ity to sup­plant some func­tions of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lites in pro­vid­ing data re­lay ser­vices, Xin­hua News Agency re­ported in June 2017.

It is also ex­pected to be used as “an air­borne mo­bile Wi-Fi hub” to pro­vide con­ve­nient mo­bile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­ter­net ac­cess for re­mote ar­eas and is­lands, sav­ing on the huge con­struc­tion and main­te­nance costs in­volved in tra­di­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion means.

The UAV will also be ca­pa­ble of forestry and agri­cul­tural sur­vey­ing as well as early warn­ing and real-time mon­i­tor­ing of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

“In earth­quake, flood or for­est fire sit­u­a­tions where telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions are cut off, the drones may pro­vide ser­vices to main­tain com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the af­fected ar­eas,” Shi said.

China’s CH se­ries drones have been sold to mil­i­taries in more than 10 coun­tries in­clud­ing Pak­istan and Turk­menistan, mak­ing it the largest drone fam­ily the coun­try has ex­ported.

Project team per­son­nel of the China’s un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle (UAV), Cai­hong (CH) pose for a pic­ture with the ve­hi­cle in June 2017.

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