China’s inexpensive missile firing drones and long duration solar drone

China’s domestically-produced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Caihong 4 (CH-4) recently completed a six-day live-fire test with various ammunition.

The tested CH-4 is an upgraded version of the model which was first produced in 2015. This was the first time that the UAV conducted a highly concentrated live-fire test carrying multiple kinds of ammunition, with functions covering both extensive bombing and precise targeting, according to the Global Times.

“The capacity and variety of its ordnance payload indicate the CH-4 can conduct effective air strikes on more targets, from longer distances with faster reaction, which lays the foundation for future models and their aligned ordnance payloads,” said the People’s Daily.

The CH-4 was developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), on the basis of the previous model, the CH-3. According to its developer, the CH-4 has better basic performance than that of the U.S.-based General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator, an industry leader, and is more competent in reconnaissance, surveillance, and strike missions.

The drone flew for 15 hours 20 kilometers above sea level. While it remained quite far from the Karman Line 100 km above Earth, which represents the bridge between the planet’s atmosphere and outer space, the aircraft was well within “near space,” a non-technical term referring to regions roughly between 18 and 100 km above ground.

The plane is designed to reach altitudes of 65 km and fly for weeks on end.

This was the first time the latest variant of CH-4 has fired weapons, according to Xinhua. Developers at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) involved in the CH-4 project insist the plane has better “basic performance” than the MQ-1 Predator, Xinhua noted.

The plane can shoot 50-kilogram cluster bombs and an assortment of guided missiles.

China also has long duration solar drones

In 2017, China’s largest and most advanced solar-powered unmanned aircraft has set a domestic record for flight ceiling by reaching an altitude of over 20,000 meters. The higher a solar-powered drone can fly, the longer it is able to remain in the sky because there are no clouds 20,000 m above the ground and the airflow there is stable. Thus, the drone can fully use its solar cells to generate power. As long as the solar power system works well, the aircraft can stay in the air as long as the controllers wish.

Inexpensive and drone factories for client nations

China produces drones at a much cheaper cost than the US, which has helped the Chinese drone export market. China’s Wing Loong reconnaissance and strike unmanned planes can be produced for about $5 million versus the roughly $100 million price tag for a US-made unmanned aerial system, IHS Markit analyst Ben Moores recently told Reuters.

In 2017, China made a deal to build a CH-4 drone factory in Saudi Arabia. Is is the third CH-4 drone factory outside China, following ones in Pakistan and Myanmar. They would also assemble associated equipment, which would improve after-sales services for clients in the Middle East.