China is preparing to strengthen its grip on a corner of the international arms market with a new combat drone.
After a successful trial flight in Hebei, Chinese officials claim they’re now ready to mass produce the CH-5 combat/reconnaissance drone, which developers assert is on par with its American counterparts. The Chinese say the new drone is “one of the best unmanned military aircraft in the world,” according to CGTN, a leading state broadcaster.
Ou Zhongming, the project manager at China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing said that the CH-5 can compete with the U.S.-made General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. 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 Wen, a chief designer of the CH series drones at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, China’s largest military drone producer, previously told the China Daily.
He added that the CH-5, “the nation’s latest offering to the international armed drone market,” outperforms all of its Chinese predecessors and counterparts.
China claims that its new combat drone can stay in the air for 60 hours and has an operational range of roughly 6,200 miles, Shi explained, adding that the aircraft has a 1,000-ton payload, allowing it to carry two dozen missiles into battle.
The CH-5 can also reportedly serve as an airborne early warning system, engage in electronic warfare, and provide battlefield command and control services through advanced reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities.
Despite Chinese claims, the CH-5 appears inferior to the MQ-9 Reaper, which has demonstrated its capabilities in combat, but the capabilities of Chinese drones are probably good enough to serve China’s purpose, dominating the unmanned aerial vehicle sector of the international arms market.
U.S. drone technology is superior, but the U.S. keeps its combat drones close, only exporting them in rare circumstances due to international restrictions linked to the Missile Technology Control Regime and strong concerns that the proliferation of drone technology will lead to increased conflict, creating an increasingly unsafe international environment. The U.S. also restricts usage of American military technology on certain humanitarian grounds.
China is unbound by those international restrictions, and it is generally unconcerned with how people use the weapons it sells abroad. The U.S. decision to hold its drones close has left an opening in a multi-billion dollar industry, and China intends to fill the gap.
Ou revealed to reporters that several clients using existing CH platforms are interested in purchasing the CH-5, which suggests that the new drone will be making an appearance in Middle East conflicts. The CH-4, known as the “AK-47 of drones,” has shown up in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Jordan.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the parent company for China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia in March to establish China’s first drone production facility in the Middle East.
While Chinese drones likely cannot compete with American drones on every level, they can do what they need to for a much lower cost.
“It’s not technological parity; rather, it’s technological similarity,” Daniel Katz, director for defense analysis and data at Aviation Week, previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“China is developing drones to do the jobs of American drones, but for a much lower cost,” Katz explained. “Chinese capabilities do not appear to match American capabilities, but they can get the job done.”
By exporting combat drones, China is moving up the value chain in the international arms market. China exports cheap systems, small arms, and some armored vehicles, but it wants to eventually sell more advanced combat products. Drones can open the door to better future transactions.
Drone sales may lead to greater arms sales, especially considering that weapons work best in packages. Through drone proliferation, China could potentially break into other sections of the global arms trade, which could evolve into new defense deals and greater global influence.
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