China’s latest stealth drones go on display at Airshow China 2018

  • CH-7 is a high-altitude, high-speed machine capable of carrying out a range of missions, from reconnaissance to air combat
  • Drone is expected to make its maiden flight next year and enter mass production in 2022
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2018, 6:42am

China is showing off the latest addition to its range of stealth drones this week as the nation’s top aerospace manufacturers continue to break new ground in the field.

While the CH-7, or Rainbow-7, unmanned aerial vehicle is not yet ready to fly, a full-size model of it is currently on display at the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2018, which runs until Sunday in the southern city of Zhuhai.

The CH family of drones is developed by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, and is one of the country’s bestsellers on the international market.

The CH-7 is a high-altitude, high-speed, long-endurance stealth drone capable of carrying out a range of missions, from reconnaissance and early warning to air defence suppression, ground attack and air combat.

It has a wingspan of 22 metres (72 feet), a length of 10 metres and maximum take-off weight of 13 tonnes. It can fly at altitudes of up to 13,000 metres and has a top speed of 919km/h (571mph).

As it is low-visibility to radar systems, the drone can also penetrate enemy defences and act as a guide for follow up strikes at high-value targets, its developer said.

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The CH-7’s wing shape gives it a similar appearance to the United States’ B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber and X47B stealth drone.

The design is a combination of advanced aerodynamics, stealth and flight control technologies, the developer said. The CH-7 is expected to make its maiden flight next year and enter mass production in 2022.

Wang Yongzhi, an aerospace expert familiar with the project, said the capabilities of the CH-7 would be similar to those of the X47B, which was a carrier-based long range stealth combat drone developed for the US navy but later cancelled.

“Currently, the CH-7 is a land-based drone but has the potential to be modified so it can be used on board carriers,” he said.

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The drone is capable of carrying a range of weapons, including anti-radiation missiles, air-to-ground missiles, long-range bombs and anti-ship missiles. All of the weapons are stored within bays to maintain the drone’s stealthy profile.

Predecessors to the CH-7, including the CH-4 and CH-5, have sold well across central Asia and the Middle East. They are regarded for their adaptability to different missions and carry a variety of weapons. They are also relatively low cost.

PLA Daily reported early last year that the CH series drones had been sold to more than 10 countries, with more than 200 leaving the factory in its most successful year.

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Also on display at the Zhuhai show are two new drone models under the Wing Loong brand developed by Aviation Industry Corporation of China.

The Wing Loong I and Wing Loong ID are already popular with domestic and foreign buyers.

The PLA Air Force uses the Wing Loong II, under the name GJ-2, and Pakistan last month announced plans to buy 48 units of the same model, which would be the biggest deal ever for a Chinese drone manufacturer.

The latest stealth drone from China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp is also on display in Zhuhai. The WJ-700 is a high-altitude, high-speed multi-role machine powered by a jet engine. It has a maximum take-off weight of 3.5 tonnes and can stay in the air for up to 20 hours.