China’s CASC wins follow-on CH-4 UAV export order

CH-4 Project 2205 signing ceremony. (ALIT)
CH-4 Project 2205 signing ceremony. (ALIT)

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) announced in early September that it had secured an export contract for its CH-4 (Cai Hong-4, or CH-4) medium altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (MALE UAV) worth over US$100 million from an undisclosed customer.

It is understood that the order is from an existing customer for an additional batch of CH-4 UAVs.

Qiu Haitao, Deputy General Manager of the Second Department of CASC’s export arm Aerospace Long March International (ALIT), said at the contract signing ceremony in Beijing that the CH-4 has undertaken a wide range of missions for its users since its introduction to the market in 2016.

“It has continuously been evolving and improving in a short period of time with user input since,” added Qiu, an attribute which he claims to have contributed to the follow-on order.

ALIT offers two variants for export: the CH-4A, which is configured principally for reconnaissance missions with a flight endurance of 30 hours; and the strike-oriented CH-4B, which can carry a 760lb (345kg) weapons payload but has a shorter flight endurance of 14 hours.

More than 30 CH-4 UAVs – valued at US$700 million – have been exported to customers such as Algeria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. More recently, the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) acquired an undisclosed number of CH-4B UAVs which have been equipped with satellite communications systems to extend their operating range to 1,080 nautical miles (2,000km). The TNI-AU is believed to be the first Southeast Asian air force to possess an armed UAV capability, having received AR-2 precision guided missiles for the CH-4B fleet in April 2021.

An electronic warfare pod, possibly for communications or signals intelligence gathering missions, has also been observed equipped to at least one of the TNI-AU’s CH-4 UAVs.

Pakistan has received five CH-4 UAVs, according to official export-import (EXIM) logs released by the government. The UAVs, which were delivered ALIT, arrived in the South Asian country in January 2021. It is unclear, however, which variant of the CH-4 was ordered by Islamabad, and whether this delivery is part of a larger UAV order or just a limited acquisition of this UAV type, possibly for testing.

User experiences with the type appear to be mixed, with Iraq earlier putting its CH-4 fleet into storage for unknown reasons around 2017. The US-led coalition reported in 2019 that Iraq possessed at least 10 CH-4s but that only one was fully mission capable because of maintenance problems. It subsequently reported that the UAV fleet had been grounded due to contractual problems.

However, in August the Iraqi Ministry of Defence released a video showing Minister of Defence Juma Enad Saadoun watching a CH-4 flight demonstration at Balad Air Base. Sadoun revealed that a contract was signed with the manufacturer in 2021 to return them to service and the work commenced around July.

Upgraded versions of the CH-4 have also emerged in recent years, including longer-ranged models designed for extended maritime patrol and surveillance operations.

by Jr Ng