Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, a Chinese state-owned aerospace company is developing a stealth combat drone called the CH-7.
This announcement underscores two things, China’s growing aerospace, and general military, prowess, as well as the country’s increasing competitiveness in the global drone market.
According to CBS News, China has won sales in the Middle East and other parts of the world by offering cheaper prices and without the political strings attached by the US.
Shi Wen, the CH-7’s lead designer said that the aircraft is able to “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 was cited by the Associated Press.
According to Shi, the manufacturer plans to test the UAV in 2019 and begin mass production in 2022. He provided no information on potential clients but claimed that it is very likely that the drone will be sold abroad.
A model of the UAV is being displayed at the Zhuhai air show in Southern China as of November 8th. The event happens once ever two years and shows China’s advancement in civil and military aviation.
With a wingspan of 22 meters and a length of 10 meters, 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.
According to CBS News, the US and Russia are also developing their own UAVs, while Israel has “long been a leader” in the UAV field.
Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the Teal Group Corp. claimed that China has an advantage due to low prices and its willingness for technology transfer.
CBS News reported that the US has been cautious of selling its higher-end UAV systems, even to NATO members, this provides an opportunity to China to corner the market, according to Justin Bronk, an expert at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies. “It would represent an area of Chinese arms export offerings which no other country offers,” he said.
In terms of aviation China appears to be advancing rapidly in UAV, stealth fighters and commercial passenger jets.
Another highly anticipated Chinese military aircraft was also shown at the air show – the J-20 Stealth Fighter. However, the purpose-built engine for the fighter jet was not displayed, despite plans to do so.
It was widely expected that the performance of the WS-15 Emei engine for the J-20 fighter, known as the Powerful Dragon, would be one of the highlights air show, however it was not displayed on November 6th.
“The performance of the engine is still very unstable, and engineers have failed to find the key reason for the problems, even though its vector power is good enough now,” an unnamed military source was cited by the South China Morning Post.
The three J-20s that appeared for a six-minute display at the opening of the air show were still equipped with AL-31 Saturn engines.
The SCMP also cited another unnamed military source who claimed that the engine problem “indicated the scheduled mass production plan is likely to be affected, even though it’s a matter of urgency for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force to have as many J-20s as possible.”
Despite of the failure of the WS-15, a modified version of the J-10B powered by WS-10B engines, was on display at Zhuhai, stealing the limelight from the J-20 and impressing some of the military experts present with its superfast maneuverability.
The J-10B fighter is equipped vectoring thrust, featuring an engine equipped with a hinged nozzle. Vectoring thrust technology allows planes to direct their propulsion, giving it more flexibility in maneuvering, and the substation of Chinese-made WS-10 engines.
SCMP also cited Li Jie, an expert who claimed that it is unlikely that China will start exporting the J-20 fighter jets as soon as they enter mass production.
“The J-20 is China’s most advanced stealth fighter jet so far. No other the country would sell its most advanced technology to the outside world.”
China has been focusing on rapidly improving all parts of its military. In addition to this progress in aviation, there is also significant progress in the Navy, with progress made on the Chinese aircraft carriers. Development is also on-going on unmanned submarines, laser and hypersonic technology.
In addition to that, Chinese President Xi Jinping also began a crackdown on corruption in the higher ranks of the military, aimed at restructuring the People’s Liberation Army and making it even more capable.