The deadly game of one-upmanship in military drones just got more lethal as China unveiled a rival to America’s powerful MQ-9 Reaper and said it would commercially produce the UAV for sale to other nations.
A report by the news service Xinhua said a mass-production model of China’s CH-5, or Caching 5, successfully completed a test flight on July 14. It is built for attack, surveillance, reconnaissance and patrol.
The South China Morning Post quoted a Chinese drone expert as saying that the CH-5 would likely cost about half the price of General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper, also known as Predator B. The Post put the Reaper’s price tag at $16.9 million per unit; a U.S Air Force fact sheet says four Reapers, plus accessories, cost $64.2 million, or $16.5 million each.
The CH-5 has a payload of as many as 16 air-to-ground missiles, a range of more than 6,000 miles and can stay aloft for almost two days, according to its designer, the Post said.
By comparison, the Reaper can carry four air-to-ground Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. It has a range of about 1,150 miles.
The Post also said that the CH-5 is so easy to control that Chinese state media claim “it could be operated by an undergraduate student with basic knowledge of aviation after only one or two days of training.”
However, the CH-5 cannot match the Reaper in one critical measure: altitude. The CH-5 has a maximum ceiling of almost 30,000 feet. The Reaper, on the other hand, can fly as high as 50,000 feet, putting it outside the range of most antiaircraft fire.
Also, rather than giving its killer drone an ominous sounding name, the Chinese seem to have opted for irony. “Caihong,” according to Xinhua, translates as “rainbow.”