China is preparing to export its new military drone, claiming that it surpasses American products.
The CH-5 reconnaissance/combat drone is “ready for export,” Shi Wen, a chief designer at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing, told the China Daily Monday. “Several foreign nations have expressed intentions to purchase the CH-5, and we are in talks with them,” he said.
The CH-5 “can perform whatever operations the MQ-9 Reaper can, and is even better than the US vehicle when it comes to flight duration and operational efficiency,” Shi explained, comparing the Chinese drone to its U.S. counterpart.
“Another advantage is that the CH-5 is capable of making a joint strike together with its predecessors, the CH-3 and CH-4, because they can share the same data link and control system,” he added. Additionally, the CH-5 can also function as an airborne early warning system, a battlefield command and control platform, and an electronic warfare unit.
China’s CH-5 can reportedly carry around 2,000 lbs of equipment and weaponry, including 24 air-to-surface missiles, stay in the air for 60 hours, and operate at a range of up to around 4,000 miles. Engineers are working to develop a better CH-5 with a maximum range of 12,500 miles that can fly for 120 hours.
With regard to range and endurance, the CH-5 can outlast the MQ-9; however, the Reaper has a far greater carrying capacity. The MQ-9’s merits have also been tested, potentially demonstrating greater reliability. The CH-5 lacks the weapons and senor capabilities of the Reaper as well. The U.S. likely still has the advantage, but China is catching up.
China has made significant strides in drone technology, giving it the ability to compete with the U.S.
Some observers suspect that China’s achievements in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) field are linked to its demonstrated espionage talents.
For two years, a Shanghai-based cyber-espionage unit targeted around 20 foreign defense contractors, the New York Times reported in 2013. The aim of the operations, according to American cybersecurity firm FireEye, was to acquire the technology behind America’s drone dominance. China has also obtained and reverse engineered U.S. technology provided by third parties. It is unclear how much American technology has been replicated to advance China’s indigenous drones.
While China develops drone technology for domestic defense purposes, it also develops them for export. While there are financial benefits, these pale in comparison to the diplomatic opportunities. China recognizes that weapons sales are a valuable tool for the development of security and defense ties. If China can sell weapons on par with American products for a much lower price, it can carve out a spot for itself in the international arms market and use that to strengthen ties with other states.
The CH-5 was put on display at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong, where over 900 Chinese weapons are being showcased for potential buyers.
At the moment, China still trails far behind the U.S. and Russia with regard to arms sales. China controls about 6 percent of the market; the U.S. and Russia manage 33 and 25 percent respectively. Nonetheless, it is clear that China hopes to take on the U.S. in the drone market. Between 2011 and 2015, China nearly doubled its international weapons sales.
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