China unleashes stealth combat drones

China unleashes stealth combat drones

BEIJING - China is unleashing stealth drones and pilot-less aircraft fitted with AK-47 rifles onto world markets, racing to catch up to American technology and adding to a fleet that has already seen combat action in the Middle East.

Combat drones were among the jet fighters, missiles and other military hardware shown off this week at Airshow China, the country's biggest aerospace industry exhibition.

A delta-winged stealth drone received much attention, highlighting China's growing production of sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles seeking to compete with the United States military's massive fleet.

The CH-7 — a charcoal-grey UAV unveiled at the air show — is the length of a tennis court with a 22-metre (72-feet) wingspan. It can fly at more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) per hour and at an altitude of 13,000 metres (42,650 feet). In this November 6 file photo, a model of CH-7 HALE Stealth Unmanned Reconnaissance Aircraft is seen on display at the Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, south China's Guangdong province. — AFP

"We are convinced that with this product clients will quickly contact us," said Shi Wen, chief engineer of the Caihong (Rainbow) series drones at state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC).

The CH-7's maiden flight is slated for late next year.

CASC has clients in around 10 countries, Shi told *AFP*, while declining to name them. "Some things remain sensitive," he added. 'Competitive prices'

China's drones are now flying in the Middle East, as Beijing has fewer qualms than the United States when it comes to selling its military UAVs to other nations.

The Iraqi army has used CASC's CH-4 drone to conduct at least 260 strikes against the militant Islamic State group, Chinese media reported earlier this year. In this November 6 file photo, the Chinese WS-10 Taihang turbofan engine is displayed during the Airshow China 2018, in Zhuhai city, south China's Guangdong province. — AP

In Yemen, where a civil war has sparked what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the United Arab Emirates military has reportedly targeted a suspected rebel chief with a Chinese-made drone.

"The Chinese have produced an enormous range of drones, and this seems to be an area that they expect to make great progress," said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

"The export and deployment of them should enable them to improve on design as they get tested in a real combat environment," Tsang said.

The US has plenty of lethal drones, but it has had restrictions on exporting them out of concern that the technology could be copied or used against its own troops. In this November 7 file photo, a model of the CRAIC CR929-600 airliner is displayed during the Airshow China 2018, in Zhuhai city, south China's Guangdong province. — AP

Some of those restrictions were lifted in April for US allies, with President Donald Trump's administration citing competition from Chinese "knockoffs", but even a solid ally such as Jordan has not been able to buy US drones.

The US rules gave Beijing the opportunity to fill the void and sell its drones to other countries, but China's "competitive" prices also helped, said James Char, an expert on the Chinese military at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

China has exported its armed UAVs to countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Char said. - APP/AFP