Chinese Rainbow 4 drones in use by foreign powers have 96pc strike rate in combat situations, paper says

More than 30 unmanned aerial vehicles have been involved in counterterrorism and inspection missions, submission document for science award reveals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 4:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 8:49pm

China has exported more than 30 Rainbow 4 (CH-4) military drones since the vehicles were introduced in late 2014, according to information contained in a submission paper for a domestic science award.

Foreign buyers of the high-performance unmanned aerial vehicles included Saudi Arabia and Iraq, while “about 10” other nations were discussing possible deals, the document said.

The Rainbow series of UAVs, which comprises five models, was designed and produced by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the company behind the country’s space programme. The latest model, the Rainbow 5, went into commercial production in July.

The CH-4 was developed as the People’s Liberation Army’s answer to the MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer drone mainly used by the United States for reconnaissance and high-precision air strikes.

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The sales information was contained in a paper submitted by the Chinese Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics as part of its application for a State Scientific and Technological Progress Award, one of the country’s most prestigious science prizes.

According to the document, the value of the export deals was US$700 million. While it did not elaborate, this figure is likely to include various aftersales and service fees, as the actual cost price for a single Rainbow 4 drone is about US$4 million.

The paper said that the exported drones had been used for counterterrorism and border inspection missions, and had accumulated 10,000 flight hours over 1,000 sorties. They had also fired more than 400 missiles and had an accuracy of 96 per cent in combat, it said.

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While the report did not explain how it knew so much about missions conducted by foreign nations, it is possible it was accessed from the drones’ on board computers during technical support.

In 2015, the Iraqi defence ministry released a video showing a CH-4B drone carrying out a missile attack on an Islamic State target.

During his visit to China in March last year, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman agreed to a deal to set up the first factory for Chinese hunter-killer aerial drones in the Middle East.

According to the submission paper, the Rainbow 4 measures 8.5 metres (28 feet) in length and has an 18 metre wingspan. It weighs in at 1,300kg (2,900 pounds), can carry up to four missiles with a maximum payload of 345kg, has a top speed of 235km/h and a maximum endurance of 40 hours.

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According to IHS Jane’s, it typically performs missions at altitudes of 3,000-5,000 metres, but is capable of operating up to a service ceiling of 7,200 metres.

“The export of CH-4 to various countries along the [route of the] ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and the big role it has helped to play in global counterterrorism has enhanced China’s military exchanges and boosted Beijing’s international influence,” the submission paper said.

The “Belt and Road Initiative” is China’s wide-ranging trade and infrastructure development plan, and a pet project of President Xi Jinping’s.