China steps up drone race with stealth aircraft

The CH-7, with a model on display above, can fly at more than 800 kilometers per hour and at an altitude of 13,000 meters. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018

China steps up drone race with stealth aircraft

  • The CH-7 — a charcoal-grey UAV unveiled at the air show — is the length of a tennis court with a 22-meter wingspan
  • China has exported its armed UAVs to countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East

ZHUHAI, China: China is unleashing stealth drones and pilotless aircraft fitted with AK-47 rifles onto world markets, racing to catch up to US 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 US 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-meter wingspan. It can fly at more than 800 kilometers per hour and at an altitude of 13,000 meters (42,650 feet).
“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 said, while declining to name them.
“Some things remain sensitive,” he said.
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 Daesh group, Chinese media reported earlier this year.
In Yemen, where a civil war has sparked what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United Arab Emirates military has reportedly targeted a Shiite 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 United States 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.
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.
At the Zhuhai air show, Chinese drone makers are rubbing their hands at the business opportunities.
“Security is a real problem in the Middle East. There’s a real need for military drones over there,” said Wu Xiaozhen, overseas project director at a company named Ziyan.
At the company’s stand, Wu handed out a brochure showing its star product: the Blowfish A2, a 62-centimeter tall helicopter drone with Kevlar armor.
“We can add an AK-47 or a machine gun. Different weapons can be installed, whatever the customer wants,” she said.
Abu Dhabi is already a customer while Pakistan is in discussions with the company to acquire the drone.
“We are targeting Western markets, too. Our product is of great quality,” she said. “We don’t fear competition from the Europeans and the Americans.”


US to announce 4,000-troop drawdown from Afghanistan: media

Updated 38 min 42 sec ago

US to announce 4,000-troop drawdown from Afghanistan: media

  • There are 13,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan
  • US President Donald Trump has previously indicated he wants to wind down US military entanglements abroad where possible

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration will announce as early as this week plans to withdraw around 4,000 troops from Afghanistan, US media reported.
Talks between the United States and the Taliban resumed a week ago as the parties sought a path to reduce violence or even reach a cease-fire.
They were paused by Washington on Thursday, however, after an attack by the militant group near a key US air base north of Kabul that left two civilians dead and dozens injured.
There are 13,000 US troops currently in Afghanistan.
NBC on Saturday cited three current and former US officials as saying the Trump administration intends to announce the drawdown of 4,000 troops from Afghanistan.
Two of those said some of the troops would be redeploying early, while others would not be replaced when they end their term.
CNN cited one official in the Trump administration as saying the announcement on a drawdown could happen this week, but that the “timing remains in flux.”
According to a draft agreement from September — reached after years of negotiations — the Taliban would be required to commit to certain security measures, agree to talks with the Afghan government and promise a reduction of violence in exchange for US troop withdrawal.
US President Donald Trump insisted last month on the need for a cease-fire and made a surprise visit to Bagram on November 28 to celebrate Thanksgiving with troops and meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Trump has previously indicated he wants to wind down US military entanglements abroad where possible.