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Built to Kill: China Unveils Its Latest Heavyweight Contender in Military Drone Race



The Chinese military’s flagship drone Rainbow 5 made its debut on state television on Sunday, showing off new weapons and the latest technology to “change the game in airstrikes”.

Rainbow 5, or Caihong 5 (CH-5), is the latest in a series of unmanned aerial vehicles developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation to hunt and kill in battle.

With a take-off weight of more than three tonnes and a wingspan similar to that of the United States’ Reaper drone, Rainbow 5 is China’s latest entry in the heavyweight military drones race dominated by the US.

The Rainbow 5’s test flight was conducted “recently” at an undisclosed airfield in Gansu province, state-run China Central Television reported 8yesterday.

The test flight comes ahead of a massive military parade to be held in Beijing on Thursday that will showcase cutting-edge technology.

For instance, with a one-tonne carrying capacity – 2 1/2 times more than its previous model – the Rainbow 5 can lift off with a wall-penetrating radar to identify and track targets inside a building.

The drone’s chief designer, Ou Zhongming, said this kind of radar would change the way military drones were used in the country’s counterterrorism missions.

At present, Chinese drones cannot open fire until they receive confirmation from ground personnel on targets hidden within buildings.

That is why the drones have – until now – been playing only a supporting role to conventional military operations.

But all this was set to change, as the Rainbow 5 took a bigger role in future missions, Ou said.

“Terrorists have their hideouts. They can hide in a bush or in a house. That requires us to go through walls and identify the objects inside,” Ou said in the CCTV report.

The Rainbow 5 could also perform missions with little or no ground support – another feature that would bring major changes to China’s airstrike strategies – the chief designer said.

The use of wall-penetrating radar on drones is not a Chinese invention. The US military has reportedly tested the technology on numerous missions in the Middle East.

But another Rainbow 5 designer, Lan Wenbo, said the new Chinese drone was equipped with more advanced technology that better equipped it for future warfare.

“It can also support and protect other drones with electronic warfare devices, such as suppressing the enemy’s radar. It will significantly increase the effectiveness of an attack,” Lan said.

The Rainbow 5’s first flight lasted about 20 minutes, CCTV reported. The drone, which has room for six missiles, can stay in the air for more than 30 hours.

China is the world’s biggest drone maker, with some civilian models dominating the global market.

But the technology used in Chinese military drones still lags that of the US because of a lack of advanced sensors and powerful, reliable engines, according to some mainland experts.

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