Caihong 5 (CH-5): China Displays New Armed Drone

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) displayed a prototype of its most capable attack and reconnaissance drone, the Caihong 5 (CH-5), at this year’s China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition. With a wingspan of 21 meters and a potential payload of up to 1,200 kilograms—2.6 times more than previous combat drones China has produced—the CH-5 is a big step forward in the country’s military technology. The drone will be able to operate via pre-programmed waypoint navigation, and capable of communicating with other combat drones for coordinated joint missions.

The Cipher Take: While the Chinese have claimed that its CH-5 drone is superior to the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper, experts say that in general, Chinese combat drones are behind their U.S. counterparts in terms of surveillance capabilities and endurance. While the presence of combat drones within the Chinese arsenal is important, the impact could be more prevalent in their exports to foreign militaries—particularly those the U.S. cannot sell to due to sanctions or other restrictions. The Chinese have already sold UAV technology to Nigeria and Iraq to facilitate their counterinsurgency campaigns; not only have these governments been accused of human rights abuses, there is also the chance that such technology could fall into the hands of non-state actors.

Read Also: The CH-5 appears to be based on the United States’ MQ-9 Reaper drone design.

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