A model of the CH-7 high-altitude, long-endurance stealth drone is displayed at the Zhuhai Airshow in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province. (Photo provided to China Daily)
China's latest unmanned aircraft-the muscular CH-7-to fly in 2019
China has been gaining a reputation as a rising supplier of advanced military drones in the international market. In the latest development, the nation is offering a new attraction that may be irresistible to some buyers: the only stealth drone available in the market.
And it has even greater weapons-carrying capacity than some manned fighter jets.
The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, the country's largest military drone exporter by number of products sold overseas, will display its latest combat model-the CH-7 high-altitude, long-endurance stealth drone-at the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, sources from the academy told China Daily.
Commonly known as the Zhuhai Airshow, the exhibition is one of the largest arms shows in the world. This year's event will open on Tuesday in Zhuhai in Guangdong province.
Globally, several aviation powers including the United States, Russia and France are developing stealth combat drones-for instance, the RQ-170 and X-47B of the US, and France's Dassault nEUROn. However, these models are either not available in the international market or are for experimental purposes only, rather than mass production. So the CH-7 will be the sole option for buyers wanting to field stealth combat drones, sources said.
Shi Wen, chief designer of the CH series, said the new model is scheduled to make its first flight in 2019, and if everything goes well, mass production and deliveries will follow around 2022.
He said that existing combat drones in the international market are suitable for low-intensity warfare, such as counterterrorism operations, but cannot handle high-tech conflicts that usually involve fighter jets or modern air-defense missiles. By comparison, the characteristics of the CH-7, such as its high speed and stealth capability, make it a good fit for high-tech confrontations.
According to the aerospace academy, the CH-7 features a high operational altitude, high speeds, long flight duration and outstanding survivability, and is intended for significant missions such as strategic reconnaissance, electronic surveillance and high-value target elimination.
Information from the academy said that the cutting-edge killing machine is also capable of detecting stealth fighter jets-such as the United States' F-22 Raptor-and early-warning aircraft, and then providing guidance for manned combat planes to hit the targets.
The CH-7 has a flying wing design, with a wingspan of 22 meters and a length of 10 meters. Its maximum takeoff weight is an astonishing 13 metric tons, which means the drone is more powerful than some manned combat aircraft such as China's JF-17 Thunder. By comparison, the CH-7's predecessor, the CH-5, has a maximum takeoff weight of 3.3 tons and has already been called a "flying arsenal" because it can carry as many as 24 missiles on a single mission.
Driven by a single jet engine, the CH-7 is able to fly at about 920 kilometers per hour, roughly the cruising speed of a large jetliner. The unmanned aircraft's flight ceiling is 13 kilometers, high enough to evade virtually all short-range and medium-range air-defense missiles. Its operational radius is around 2,000 km.
The CH series of drones, designed and built by the academy, have been sold to militaries in more than 10 countries, making them the largest armed drone family China has exported, according to statistics from the academy.