New CH-5 — or "Rainbow 5" — larged-sized unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can carry at least eight AR-1 missiles and even the under-development FT-7 small diameter bomb, reports the Beijing-based Sina Military Network.

The CH-5, developed by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), is a long-range, low-mid altitude drone capable of both reconnaissance and strike missions.

Made predominantly with composite materials, the CH-5, which reportedly completed its maiden flight last month, has a wingspan of 20 meters, an endurance of more than 30 hours, a maximum take-off weight reaching three tons and a payload of around 900 kilometers. The UAV is an all-round upgrade over its predecessor, the CH-4, which has a wingspan of 18m, a take-off weight of 1.3 tons and a payload of 350kg.

The CH-5 can also carry more warheads and heavier weapons. While the CH-4 can only equip weapons weighing 100kg or below such as the AR-1 missile and the FT-5 small diameter bomb, the CH-5 can equip weapons weighing around 130kg, meaning it is capable of carrying the FT-7 precision-guided bomb — which has a range of up to 90km — currently being developed by the CASC. Under similar conditions, the CH-4 can carry around six AR-1 missiles, while the CH-5 can carry eight or more.

While the precise details of the CH-5 are not yet available, Sina estimates that the UAV should have around 1.3 tons of weight for fuel and weapons. Accordingly, if the CH-5 carries eight AR-1s, it would leave around 700kg of space for fuel, providing the UAV with a combat radius of 1,500km. If the CH-5 is loaded to maximum capacity with eight AR-1s and two FT-7s, it would still have room for around 400kg of fuel, equivalent to a combat radius of 1,000km.

Sina refutes reports that the CH-5 is equipped with a domestic WJ-9 turboprop engine, noting that as it is a low-mid altitude UAV the CH-5 is more likely powered by a piston engine. If so, Sina suggests that the CH-5 could be matched with a Lycoming O-540 engine that has around 300 horsepower, though this would make it difficult for the drone to top speeds of more than 300 km per hour.

Despite the enhancements to the previous model, the capabilities of the CH-5 still lag behind that of American large-sized UAVs such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which has a take-off weight of 4.7 tons, a cruise speed of around 400 km per hour, and has room for 1.3 tons of fuel with its weapons capacity maxed out.

The US also has the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which has a maximum take-off weight of 11 tons, while the United States Navy's Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) drone program is said to be developing a strike UAV with a take-off weight of more than 30 tons.




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