China steps up drone race with stealth air­craft

Iran Daily - - Science & Technology -

China is un­leash­ing stealth drones and pi­lot­less air­craft fit­ted with AK-47 ri­fles onto world mar­kets, rac­ing to catch up to US tech­nol­ogy and adding to a fleet that has al­ready seen com­bat ac­tion in the Mid­dle East.

Com­bat drones were among the jet fighters, mis­siles and other mil­i­tary hard­ware shown off this week at Air­show China, the coun­try’s big­gest aero­space in­dus­try ex­hi­bi­tion, AFP re­ported.

A delta-winged stealth drone re­ceived much at­ten­tion, high­light­ing China’s grow­ing pro­duc­tion of so­phis­ti­cated un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles seek­ing to com­pete with the US mil­i­tary’s mas­sive fleet.

The CH-7 — a char­coal­grey UAV un­veiled at the air show — is the length of a ten­nis court with a 22-me­ter (72-feet) wing­span. It can fly at more than 800 kilo­me­ters (500 miles) per hour and at an alti­tude of 13,000 me­ters (42,650 feet).

“We are con­vinced that with this prod­uct clients will quickly con­tact us,” said Shi Wen, chief en­gi­neer of the Cai­hong (Rain­bow) se­ries drones at state-owned China Aero­space Science and Tech­nol­ogy Corp (CASC).

The CH-7’S maiden flight is slated for late next year.

CASC has clients in around 10 coun­tries, Shi told AFP, while de­clin­ing to name them.

“Some things re­main sen­si­tive,” he said.

Com­pet­i­tive prices

China’s drones are now fly­ing in the Mid­dle East, as Bei­jing has fewer qualms than the United States when it comes to sell­ing its mil­i­tary UAVS to other na­tions.

The Iraqi army has used CASC’S CH-4 drone to con­duct at least 260 strikes against the ter­ror­ist group Daesh, Chi­nese me­dia re­ported ear­lier this year.

“The Chi­nese have pro­duced an enor­mous range of drones, and this seems to be an area that they ex­pect to make great progress,” said Steve Tsang, di­rec­tor of the China In­sti­tute at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies (SOAS) in Lon­don.

“The ex­port and de­ploy­ment of them should en­able them to im­prove on de­sign as they get tested in a real com­bat en­vi­ron­ment,” Tsang said.

The United States has plenty of lethal drones, but it has had re­stric­tions on ex­port­ing them out of con­cern that the tech­nol­ogy could be copied or used against its own troops.

Some of those re­stric­tions were lifted in April for US al­lies, with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion cit­ing com­pe­ti­tion from Chi­nese ‘knock­offs’, but even a solid ally such as Jor­dan has not been able to buy US drones.

The US rules gave Bei­jing the op­por­tu­nity to fill the void and sell its drones to other coun­tries, but China’s ‘com­pet­i­tive’ prices also helped, said James Char, an ex­pert on the Chi­nese mil­i­tary at Sin­ga­pore’s Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity.

China has ex­ported its armed UAVS to coun­tries in Asia, Africa and the Mid­dle East, Char said.

Ar­mored Blow­fish

At the Zhuhai air show, Chi­nese drone mak­ers are rub­bing their hands at the busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Se­cu­rity is a real prob­lem in the Mid­dle East. There’s a real need for mil­i­tary drones over there,” said Wu Xiaozhen, over­seas project di­rec­tor at a com­pany named Ziyan.

At the com­pany’s stand, Wu handed out a brochure show­ing its star prod­uct: the Blow­fish A2, a 62-cen­time­ter (24-inch) tall he­li­copter drone with Kevlar ar­mor.

“We can add an AK-47 or a ma­chine gun. Dif­fer­ent weapons can be in­stalled, what­ever the cus­tomer wants,” she told AFP.

Abu Dhabi is al­ready a cus­tomer while Saudi Ara­bia and Pak­istan are in dis­cus­sions with the com­pany to ac­quire the drone.

“We are tar­get­ing Western mar­kets, too. Our prod­uct is of great qual­ity,” she said. “We don’t fear com­pe­ti­tion from the Euro­peans and the Amer­i­cans.”

WANG ZHAO/AFP

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