The production variant of the CASC CH-5 (Cai Hong-5, or Rainbow 5) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made its maiden flight successfully on 14 July from an undisclosed airfield in Hebei Province, marking the final major milestone in its development before the batch production commences.
Developed by China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA, a.k.a. 11th Academy) of the China Aerospace Science & Technology Corporation (CASC) consortium, the CH-5 is a successor to the CH-4, which was introduced in 2011 and has been sold to a number of international customers including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.
First unveiled to the public during the 11th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai last year, the CH-5 is the largest and most capable member of CASC/CAAA’s Cai Hong (CH) series UAV. The UAV has been compared with the U.S. General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, with a similar hunter-killer capability and long-endurance performance.
The CH-5 has a length of 11 m and wingspan of 21 m, and a maximum take-off weight of 3,300 kg. Powered by a 330 hp heavy-fuel engine (HFE), the UAV can carry up to 1,000 kg of weapon load, with a maximum range of 10,000 km, a service ceiling of 7,600 m, and a maximum flight endurance of 60 hours. When carrying eight AR-1 air-to-surface missiles, the UAV can remain in flight for up to 30 hours. Alternatively, it can carry up to 16 air-to-surface missiles or precision-guided munitions under its six under-wing payload stations.
The manufacturer of the CH-5 particularly highlighted the UAV’s combined hunter-killer capability, which allows the UAV to seek and identify its targets as well as launching an attack. To achieve this, the UAV can be fitted with a range of surveillance/reconnaissance packages including high-definition electro-optical camera, high-definition imagery camera, hyperspectral imaging camera, and synthetic aperture radar (SAR). As a result, the UAV is capable of identifying and engaging with a surface/sea target from 2,000 m distance.
According to the CH-5’s chief designer Shi Wen, the production variant CH-5 features a number of improvements over the prototype displayed at the Zhuhai Air Show last year. He expected further flight testing to be carried out and some minor modifications to be made according at the customers’ requests, before the batch production can commence. However, he did not disclose whether any buyer has already been secured.
The CH-5 will form the high-end member of CASC/CAAA’s CH family of UAVs, which also includes the medium-end CH-4 and low-end CH-3 to meet different requirements from the customers. China has so far achieved some degree of success in the international UAV market, particularly with the countries that are keen to acquire such a capability but unable to obtain a similar system from the United States.