China appears to have secured its first international customer for its domestically developed Cai Hong 5 (CH-5, or Rainbow 5) medium-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), according to imagery circulating on Chinese-language social media websites.
These include an image with several unidentified officials standing in front of a large screen with the words “Closing Ceremony and “CH-5 Training Program” with the national flags of Iraq and China displayed prominently underneath. Another image showed what appeared to be a “Certificate of Completion” for “successful completion of the CH-5 UAV System Theoretical, Practical and Flight Training Courses” dated 23 September 2023 and endorsed by Poly Technologies, CHUAV Science & Technology Co Ltd, and the Military Attache Office of the Iraqi Embassy At China.
Poly Techologies is a subsidiary of the China Poly Group Corporation and is one of several state-owned defence export companies at the forefront of China’s efforts to expand defence sales around the world. The company is known to undertake both manufacturing of defence platforms and marketing the systems of other Chinese state-owned enterprises in the Middle East and Africa.
Meanwhile, CHUAV is a subsidiary of the state-owned defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Unlike Poly Technologies, CASC primarily specializes in advanced missile, rocket, and UAV development.
CHUAV first unveiled the strike-capable CH-5 at Airshow China 2016 in Zhuhai. According to company specifications, the CH-5 features a lightweight all-composite airframe that measures 11.3 metres long with a wingspan of 21 metres. The company claims it can carry a maximum payload of 1,200 kilogrammes and offers a stated flight endurance of over 40 hours. The company has specified an operating radius of 250 kilometres via line-of-sight control, although this can be extended to 2,000 kilometres when a SATCOM datalink is equipped.
Iraq is an existing customer of CHUAV products, namely the MALE-class CH-4 UAV first unveiled by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence in October 2015. An undisclosed number of these systems are understood to be operated by the Iraqi Army Aviation Command (IAAC) and armed with Chinese-made AR-1 laser-guided missiles and FT-9 bombs.
Iraqi defence Minister Juma Enad Saadoun had also revealed on state news that the CH-4 UAVs had contributed significantly to operations against the Islamic State extremist group but were put in storage in 2017. He added that a contract was signed with the UAV manufacturer in 2021 to return these air vehicles to service.
It is not known how many CH-5 UAVs were acquired by Iraq, although the US-led coalition, the Multi-National Force-Iraq, noted in the past that it had observed over 10 CH-4 UAVs in Iraqi service.
by Jr Ng