China readies updated stealth UCAV

The CASC CH-7 is a HALE-class UCAV designed to penetrate heavily contested airspace to perform its missions.

The state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is developing an updated version of its turbofan-powered high-altitude Cai Hong 7 (CH-7) Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), according to local reports.

It is understood that development of the CH-7 is expected to be completed by the end of 2024 after further testing.

The company unveiled a full-scale mock up of the proposed CH-7 design at the Airshow China exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, in November 2018. The prototype CH-7 on was the centrepiece display in the company’s hall and adopts a flying wing airframe with a 10m length and 22m wingspan and dorsally mounted low-observability engine intake and exhaust. Other features include serrated edges for the undercarriage and payload bay covers to preserve the air vehicle’s low-observability characteristics.

Original company specifications indicated that the CH-7 will typically cruise at altitudes up to 42,650ft (13,000m) at speeds of up to 400kts (740 km/h), although it can also reach a high subsonic ‘dash’ speed of 500kts (926 km/h). The air vehicle will be equipped with an encrypted satellite communications datalink that will enable it to operate freely across vast distances, although CASC did not reveal its range and endurance.

It will be also able to carry a range of precision-guided weapons including anti-radiation, anti-ship, air-to-ground missiles, and bombs, as well as electronic warfare payloads including active and passive sensors, and jamming systems.

The updated design features a 26m wingspan, four metres longer than the original version, and a service ceiling of 15,000m higher than the original version,.

CASC earlier aimed to perform the first flight of the CH-7 prototype by the end of 2019, with design work on the production-ready model expected to be finalised by 2022, but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed progress.

Although the air vehicle is presently designed to be a land-based aircraft, company officials confirmed that it could be further developed into a naval aircraft and operate from an aircraft carrier.

by Jr Ng