China-made CH-4 drones were spotted at a Pakistani airbase located close to India’s border. Satellite imagery shared by an open-source intelligence shows four of these CH-4 combat drones at the Bahawalpur airbase in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
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These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are believed to have been deployed by Pakistan as part of a training program. According to reports, Pakistan acquired five CH-4 drones from China earlier this year.
Apart from China and Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Myanmar, and Jordan also operate the CH-4 besides others.
Built by China Aero Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the Cai Hong 4 (Rainbow 4, or CH-4) multirole medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) drone is nearly similar to the US-made General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone, also called Predator.
A company brochure at Airshow China in Zhuhai in 2014 said that the CH-4 series is suitable for high-altitude missions over land and sea, and has a maximum take-off weight of 1,260kg (2,770lb) and payload capacity of 115kg. Endurance for the CH-4 series is claimed to be up to 30h.
The CH-4 also has a retractable electro-optical sensor turret and a data link to the ground control station. It boasts a modern, two-person control station to fly the drone remotely, with provisions for both line of sight and satellite communications, Popular Science reported.
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The Chinese UAV can carry weapon payload including Lan Jian 7 (Blue Arrow 7) laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, TG100 laser/INS/GPS-guided bombs, and AR-1/HJ-10 anti-tank missile, which is China’s equivalent to the American-made Hellfire missile.
Two variants of the drone are reportedly in service with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — the CH-4A, which is primarily for reconnaissance missions with a flight duration of 30 hours, and the CH-4B, which can carry an additional weapon payload of 345 kg but has a shorter flight duration of 14 hours.
Pakistan was initially linked to a possible CH-4 drone purchase in 2016 when Shi Wen, the lead designer of drones at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) at the time, said the company was talking to a South Asian customer.
In June 2016, a Chinese Wing Loong drone had crashed in Mianwali, Pakistan during an “experimental flight”. This was an indication that Pakistan was evaluating Chinese UAVs.
It is unclear whether Pakistan acquired the CH-4A or B variant. If it was the CH-4B variant, it would mean that Pakistan has gained another armed drone (in addition to its Burraq-series) for unmanned combat operations.
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China has exported more than 30 Rainbow 4 (CH-4) military drones since the UAVs were introduced in late 2014, according to the information contained in a submission paper for a domestic science award.
Foreign buyers of the high-performance UAVs included Saudi Arabia and Iraq, while “about 10” other nations were discussing possible deals, the document said, as reported by South China Morning Post.
Written by Kashish Tandon/EurAsian Times