A Chinese state-owned company says it is developing a stealth combat drone in the latest sign of the country’s growing aerospace prowess. The CH-7 unmanned aerial vehicle also underscores China’s growing competitiveness in the expanding global market for drones.
China has won sales in the Middle East and elsewhere by offering drones at lower prices and without the political conditions attached by the U.S.
The CH-7’s chief designer Shi Wen says the aircraft can “fly long hours, scout and strike the target when necessary.”
“Very soon, I believe, in the next one to two years, (we) can see the CH-7 flying in the blue skies, gradually being a practical and usable product in the future,” Shi told The Associated Press.
Shi said manufacturer Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation plans to test fly the drone next year and begin mass production by 2022. He said the drone will likely be sold abroad but had no information on potential clients.
A model of the aircraft is being displayed at this week’s Zhuhai air show in southern China, a biannual event that showcases China’s latest advancements in military and civilian aviation.
With a wingspan of 22 meters (72 feet) and a length of 10 meters (33 feet), the swept-wing CH-7 is the size of a combat aircraft and its single engine can propel it at roughly the speed of a commercial jet airliner.
The U.S., Russia and France are also developing stealth drones, while Israel has long been a leader in the UAV field.
However, low prices and a willingness to transfer technology have endowed China with a “strong position,” in the UAV market, said Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the Teal Group Corp. in Fairfax, Virginia.
The U.S. has been extremely cautious about selling its higher-end unmanned system, even to NATO member states, opening up an opportunity to China in the export market, said Justin Bronk, an export on such technologies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London.
“It would represent an area of Chinese arms export offerings which no other country offers,” Bronk said.
Alongside its development of stealth fighters and commercial passenger jets, China has advanced rapidly in the development of UAVs, which have a relatively lower technological entry cost. Sales have also been boosted by the fact that China is not a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime that restricts exports of missiles and other unmanned weapons systems.
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