New Chinese CH-4B Drones now operating from Kut Airbase in Iraq
- The U.S. abandoned nations like Iraq and Egypt to twist slowly the winds of Islamist terror. China and Russia have entered that vacuum and are selling arms throughout the Middle East.
(Popular Mechanics) - Chinese drones are being used on two fronts in the Middle East, the first time modern, high-tech weaponry by the People's Republic has been used on the battlefield. The Predator-type drones will likely bolster demand for Chinese weapons, which have previously had a reputation for being unsophisticated and unreliable.
After the success of American Predator and Reaper drones post-9/11, China quickly jumped on the unmanned aerial vehicle bandwagon. One result is the CH (Cai Hong, or Rainbow)-4, a medium-altitude, long endurance armed drone. The CH-4 entered service with the People's Liberation Army Air Force in 2014.
Looking very much like a MQ-9 Reaper drone, the CH-4 has similar characteristics. Built for intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance, it is also armed to permit precision-guided air strikes. With maximum payload and fuel, it can remain aloft for up to 14 hours.
Chinese drone live fire test
For armament, the CH-4 can carry 4-6 AR-1 laser guided anti-tank missiles, each capable of penetrating up to 1,000 millimeters of armored plate and hitting targets at ranges of up to 8 kilometers. The CH-4 can also carry 100 pound laser-guided bombs.
An electro-optical turret incorporating an imaging infrared sensor and laser can spot and designate targets, and a synthetic aperture radar can three-dimensionally image targets and terrain on the ground.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, and Egypt have all purchased the CH-4. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are using them in their campaign against Yemen's Houthi rebels, while Iraq has used them in action against ISIS forces operating in the country. Earlier this month, as part of an operation to retake the city, a CH-4 drone was used against an ISIS position in Ramadi.
The use of these drones in combat will bolster China's credibility as a supplier of high-tech weapons. Chinese weapons have previously had the reputation of being crude and inexpensive, but companies such as Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, which produces the CH-4 drone, have been catching up.
Critics charge that China's four Middle Eastern customers for the CH-4 would rather have American equipment, but that Washington's arms export approval process is painfully slow. Chinese arms exports are approved quickly and are increasingly turning out to be an affordable alternative.
Another likely factor in selection: Chinese weapons likely come with fewer political strings, as U.S. and other Western countries look more closely at civilian deaths in air strikes and possible human rights violations. Human rights groups have accused Saudi Arabia in particular of targeting civilians in the war with Yemen.
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