Kelvin Wong – IHS Jane’s International Defence Review
03 August 2017
Engineers at the Beijing-based China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA), the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platform, systems, and technology business unit of defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), are developing a new app-based UAV management system specifically designed to reduce the complexities of operating larger, multirole air vehicles in the medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) class.
Jane’s sources revealed that such an effort had been under way since 2014 and the company aims to have early software builds ready for field trials “in the near future”. It is expected that the yet-to-be-named app-based system will be made available as an option for the company’s flagship products such as the Cai Hong 4 (Rainbow 4, or CH-4) – which is already in service a number of countries in Central Asia and the Middle East – and the recently market-ready CH-5 strike-capable reconnaissance MALE UAVs when fully developed.
A company official briefed Jane’s that the proposed management system takes the form of open architecture software that exploits the high level of automation that is already inherent in the company’s UAV platforms – which are already capable of automatic take-off and landing and autonomous navigation – to enable an operator to assign tasks to one or multiple platforms using easily identifiable app icons.
“Our app-based approach is designed to increase the effectiveness of UAV missions by raising operator focus from the level of tactical operation to that of supervision,” the official explained. “By automating most, if not all tactical functions, we are also aiming to ease the cognitive burden on operators, enabling them to supervise and command multiple concurrent UAV missions without losing effectiveness.”
Source: IHS Jane’s 360 “China’s CASC plans app-based control system for Cai Hong UAVs”
Note: This is IHS Jane’s 360’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.
SCMP says in its report “Chinese drone factory in Saudi Arabia first in Middle East” yesterday that China will earn US$65 billions by selling its most advanced CH-4 drone technology to Saudi Arabia.
It says China is able to do the transaction as CH-4 is cheaper than US MQ-1, but it is exceptional to sell the technology in helping Saudi Arabia build a CH-4 factory.
China has just succeeded in developing CH-5 more advanced than CH-4, but as it has just been developed and not tested in war, CH-4 remains China’s most advanced reliable drone. China displayed its confidence in developing more advanced drones by selling its most advanced drone technology. That is what the US dare not do and the reason China can compete with the US with a much smaller military budget. China is able to recover its R&D costs through export.
Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2081869/chinese-drone-factory-saudi-arabia-first-middle-east
Chinese drones such as the CH-3 and CH-4 have become a key part of the proliferation of the technology, joining China’s air force as well as being sold to a wide range of foreign partners, from Myanmar to Saudi Arabia. They have even recently used in battlefields that range from Nigeria to Iraq. However, some have argued that the significance of these systems is overblown, as unlike their satellite link-equipped American counterparts, Chinese-made armed drones could not truly conduct what is known as a “remote split operation.” In these operations, the ground controllers are located at great distances from the drone, linked by satellite. Up to this point, Chinese-made drones relied on direct line-of-sight communications with their ground control station, which dramatically limits their range to within a few hundred kilometers of their base.
All that is changing, as yet again China has shown off its ability to push forward with technology. The official Xinhua News Agency reported that China has conducted live fire tests with two CH-4 UAVs.
The CH-4 itself, already purchased by Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, is a 1300kg UAV with a 345 kg payload and a 35 hour flight endurance at 4,000m altitude, comparable to the US MQ-9 Reaper. In the test, the drones fired their missiles on command from pilots over 1,000km away. This proof of concept, along with China’s constellation of communications satellites, means that Chinese pilots on Chinese soil could fire missiles from a drone anywhere in the world, much as US pilots are able to control a drone over Afghanistan from a base in Nevada. And similar to US offerings of the capability to close allies like the UK, Italy, and UAE, the same capability could be provided to Chinese allies and operators of its drones.
Also of note, one of the drones in the satellite-controlled firing test is a CH-4 UCAV with a new electro-optical sensor turret. Its new turret has a 1080p digital camera capable of finding a man-sized target 20km away and inertial guidance in case of degraded satellite navigation signals.
This new capacity is significant beyond the story of drone proliferation. Much as with US operations in the Middle East, Chinese expeditionary forces, such as those on UN peacekeeping, could be provided with UAV ISR and fire support without having to shoulder the heavy logistical footprint of operating a local UAV control station. Satellite control of UAVs also extends their reach in operations in the vast distances of Pacific, allowing the systems to track and strike targets thousands of miles away from local airbases. Finally, Chinese confidence in the security of satellite links to control the distant operation of drone weapons indicates a growing confidence in using Chinese communications satellites to support other defense activities, such as mid-flight corrections to anti-ship missiles and special operations. A growing Chinese reliance on space-based communications for future military operations, in turn, might ramp up the brewing space race between the US and China.
Thanks to hmmwv at China Defense Forum.
Source: Popular Science “Chinese Drones Make Key Breakthrough, Firing On Command By Satellite”
China’s new CH-5 reconnaissance-strike drone was showcased at the recent sixth drone trade fair in Shenzhen. On November 17, Mil.huanqiu.com reporter had an exclusive interview at the trade fair with Shi Wen, chief designer of Rainbow series of reconnaissance-strike drones (CH-1 to CH-5 drones) of China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Shi gave the following specifications of CH-3 drone that are somewhat different from those revealed in Wikipedia
Specifications of CH-3
Wingspan (m): 8
Length (m): 5.5
Range (km): 2,400 instead of 960 as revealed in wikipedia
Endurance (h): 12
Takeoff weight (kg): 640
Effective payload (kg): 60
Ceiling (km): 6 instead of 4 as revealed in wikipedia
Weapons: 2 AR-1 missiles
However, the reporter’s interest was mainly on the new member of Shi’s Rainbow series drones CH-5. Shi said that CH-5 had its successful maiden flight in August and its payload is 2.5 times of that of CH-4. He revealed for the first time the secret of the specifications of CH-5 as follows:
Specifications of CH-5
Wingspan (m): 20
Endurance (h): 40 to be raised to 120
Takeoff weight (kg): 3,000
Payload (kg): 800-900 for domestic version/480 for export version
Maximum payload (kg): 1,000
Ceiling (km): 8-9
Source: mil.huanqiu.com “Exclusive interview with Rainbow drones chief designer Shi Wen: Secret about CH-5 specifications fully bared” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)
China Youth Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Youth League, publishes an article by an expert in National Defense University that provides detailed information about China’s unmanned aerial vehicles. This blogger believes it is quite an authoritative source of information about Chinese drones. The following is a summary of the article:
China began development of drones very early in late 1950s. The first drone China developed was an unmanned target aircraft to replace Soviet one for pilot training.
The first high-speed target drone CK-1 conducted its maiden flight on December 6, 1966. There were a series of improved versions of CK-1 from 1966 to 1988.
In the decade after 1988, China developed and commissioned T-6 general-purpose drones, Z-5 series of reconnaissance drones and ASN series drones.
China’s military drones began to emerge in various types and large number in 2006. There were Xianglong high-altitude high-speed reconnaissance drone similar to US Global Hawk, Tianying-3 unmanned helicopter and Anjian drone very similar to US stealth bomber.
Since then, China has made rapid progress in developing drones and turned out Changying long-range military drone, CH-3 drone, Lanhu drone and ASN-229A drone with world advanced technology. China also developed Lijian and other stealth drones.
China’s Four Star Drones:
1. Yilong medium-altitude, long-range reconnaissance-attack multi-purpose drone is China’s newest drone with China’s best technology.
It is similar to USAF’s MQ-1B Predator. Its maximum takeoff weight is 1100 kg. It weighs 1.1 metric ton, is 9 meters long, has a range of 4,000 km and a ceiling of 5,000 meters and can remain in air for 20 hours and carry China-made KD-10 laser guided missile and LS-6GPS.
2. CH-4 medium-altitude long-range drone, a large reconnaissance-attack military drone that can carry the heaviest load among drones of the same class. It is the Chinese version of US Reaper.
It conducts theater reconnaissance to collect information about enemy operations and give over-the-horizon warning, can conduct electronic war and accurate attack at fixed and slow-moving targets on the ground
It is characterized by 1. excellent platform with maximum takeoff weight of 1,330 km, maximum load of 345kg, ceiling of 8,000 meters and maximum cruise duration of 38 hours, all better than US Predator; 2. combination of the functions of reconnaissance and attack. Its radar enables it to have strong all-weather fighting/detecting capabilities while its missiles can attack ground and surface targets from the height of 5,000 meters without diving down; and 3. it is highly intelligent, able to take off and land automatically and thus very reliable. It can lock on its target while flying and then attack with its missile or guided bomb.
3. Gongji-1 drone. It is a reconnaissance-attack drone in service in PLA air force, a new favorite in IT war. It has a single engine and the pneumatic design of large aspect ratio, straight wings and V-shaped tail that enables it to conduct sustained reconnaissance, monitor and attack in a theater with low threat. Its laser indicator and photoelectric reconnaissance and monitor equipment can not only guide the anti-tank missiles it has launched but also provide instruction about targets to guide the weapons on other aircrafts and ground. The drone is combat capable now.
4. WJ-600 high-altitude, high-speed drone. It is a large drone like a cruise missile in shape installed with various advanced electronic reconnaissance equipment for photoelectric reconnaissance and a synthetic aperture radar. It can also carry two KD-2 air-to-ground missiles to become a killer in the air. A WJ-600 can also serve as a communication relay to enable ground command center to control through it SH-1 stealth drone and Blade series of drones so as to merge various functions of combat operation such as reconnaissance, communication, command and attack for integrated combat operation of reconnaissance, control, attack and assessment.
Source: China Youth Daily “Rapid development of Chinese drones: CH-4 surpasses US Predator in all aspects” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)
My book “Space Era Strategy” gives quite detailed descriptions of China catching up and surpassing the US in developing drones. The recent Tianjin International Drone Fair opened on August 29 gives us some further information especially on China’s new CH-4 hunter-killer drone.
Chinanews.com says: At the opening of Tianjin International Drone Fair on August 29, China displayed a real Caihong-4 (CH-4) hunter-killer drone. The drone has a wingspan of 18 meters and can cruise at a speed from 140 to 180 km/h and a height of 5,000 meters. Its maximum taking-off weight is 130 kg and can remain in air for 35 hours.
In addition to conventional reconnaissance, it can conduct accurate strikes at fixed or slow-motion targets on the ground with the precision-guided weapons it carries. There is speculation that the type of drone Chinese air force used for the first time in recent Peace Mission-2014 joint military drill is a CH-14.
SCMP says in its report on the drone today, “A Pentagon report in June said the resources and technological awareness deployed in China’s drone programme meant it could rival the United States’ systems in the future.
“Li Pingkun, the head of the Rainbow 4 project at the aerospace corporation, told state television the drone could make a long-distance hit on a target with a margin of error of less than 1.5 metres.”
According to SCMP, CH-4 was developed in response to US hunter-killer MQ-9 Reaper with comparable functions and performance but much slower speed as MQ-9 can cruise at 740 km/h,
Source: chinanews.com “Tianjin Drone Fair: China’s CH-4 Hunter-Killer Drone Displayed for the First Time” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)
Source: SCMP “Next-generation Rainbow drone ready for PLA delivery”