China has begun marketing a new combat UAV in its “Rainbow” series. The new model is the CH-5, which is similar to the 4.6 ton American MQ-9 Reaper but is a bit lighter (at three tons). The CH-5 has a 900 kg payload and can carry smart (GPS guided) bombs as well as laser guided missiles (similar to the American Hellfire. CH-5 made its first flight in 2015, apparently has endurance of up to twenty hours and is supposed to be available for delivery in late 2016. This is not the first of the Rainbow series to be armed.
In 2012 China began marketing the CH-4, which was similar in shape to the 1.2 ton American Predator. CH-4 weighs 1.1 tons, has a 14 meter (46 feet) wingspan, and is 9 meters (28 feet) long. It has max altitude of 5,300 meters (16,400 feet) and an endurance of over 14 hours. Each CH-4 can carry 4 weapons (or electronic devices) under the wings, each weighing up to 100 kg. China offers Chinese made weapons for the CH-4. Chief among these are a Hellfire clone, the AR-1. This is a 45 kg (99 pound) missile with a max range of 10 kilometers and a 10 kg (22 pound) warhead. AR-1 can be equipped with either GPS or laser guidance. The other weapon is a copy of the American SDB (small diameter bomb) which is a 128 kg (281 pound) GPS guided glide bomb in the shape of a missile with a penetrating warhead. The Chinese version is the FT-5 and is a 100 kg (220 pound) GPS guided bomb in the shape of a missile.
The Chinese versions are much cheaper (about half the price) than the American originals, but for that you get aircraft and missiles that have not had many of the bugs worked out nor achieved anything like the nearly two decade track record of the Predator. The CH-4 was developed from the earlier (2010) CH-3. This is a 640 kg aircraft with 12 hours endurance and can carry two AR-1 missiles. Thus it is believed that the CH-5 is a scaled up version of the CH-4.
China recently revealed that is had sold military UAVs to ten countries, mainly in the Middle East and Africa. Most of the military UAVs delivered so far have been CH-3s and 200 smaller unarmed UAVs equipped for surveillance and reconnaissance. At the same time China has become the largest exporter of commercial UAVs which are used by police and commercial firms for a wide variety of tasks.