The Rainbow 4 (CH-4) aerial drone. Experts in the United States say China is rapidly catching up in drone technology. Photo: SCMP

Next-generation Rainbow drone ready for PLA delivery

Rainbow 4 unmanned aerial vehicle ready for use by military after successful missile test

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) would soon take delivery of a new generation of the country's aerial drone, state media reported yesterday.

State television showed a test of the Rainbow 4 (CH-4) hunter-killer drone successfully hitting a target with a missile.

The technology was developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology for reconnaissance and military strikes.

The latest move comes as the PLA is actively and publicly promoting the use of drones by its military personnel.

State media reported last week on the use of a drone to knock out a simulated enemy command vehicle during counter-terrorism exercises in Inner Mongolia .

State media have also reported that drones have been deployed in Xinjiang in recent weeks to help in the search for terror suspects.

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.

He said the system was very precise because it used several methods to guide missiles or smart bombs to their target.

The Rainbow 4 was developed as the PLA's answer to the MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer drone mainly used by the US military for reconnaissance and high-precision air strikes, according to mainland media reports.

The Rainbow had gradually caught up with the Reaper in terms of targeting precision, flight length and payloads, but still fell short in some areas, including its top speed, the reports said.

The Reaper can fly at up to 740km/h for a surprise attack, much faster than the Rainbow's top speed of 235km/h. The PLA also has limited experience in using drones in combat zones.

The Rainbow drone is about nine metres long and has an 18-metre wingspan. It can fly for about 40 hours. The drone can carry up to four missiles and its ground control and support centre can be packed into and moved around in two trucks.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: New drone primed for PLA handover