China’s new double-jet long-endurance armed combat drone is launched

China’s big international air show in Zhuhai hasn’t even officially kicked off yet, but we already have a glimpse of what’s going to be on display there. A new development is the Chinese J-16D electronic attack jet first seen with jamming modules. We now get our first full-size view of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s Cai Hong (Rainbow) 6, better known by its designation CH-6. It is a long-endurance twin-jet multirole drone. In the past, we’ve only seen models and low-fidelity renderings of the design.

The CH-6 is considered a High Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned System (HALE) designed for intelligence gathering, support, and strike roles. It almost looks like a significantly enlarged CH-5, but its rear configuration is very different from its earlier design. It has a high T-tail configuration, with two jet engines installed side-by-side at the top of the tail section. The drone’s long middle wings are also swept a bit, and the whole thing sits atop a large landing gear. The aircraft also has a noticeable chine line-shaped edge that wraps around its elliptical-shaped fuselage.

According to China-Arms.com, which claims to have the basic information that will be displayed on the CH-6 during the air show, its stats include:

The parameters of the CH-6 UAV include a maximum takeoff weight of 7.8 tons, a maximum load capacity of 300 kg (reconnaissance type) or 2 tons (reconnaissance-attack type), a fuel capacity of 3, 42 tons (reconnaissance type) or 1.72 tons (reconnaissance-attack type), total length of 15 meters, wingspan of 20.5 meters, height of 5 meters, maximum level flight speed of 800 km / h, cruising speed of 500 km / h to 700 km / h, cruising altitude of 10 km, ceiling of 12 km, a maximum autonomy of 20 hours (reconnaissance type) or 8 hours (reconnaissance-attack type), a maximum autonomy of 12,000 km (reconnaissance type) or 4,500 km (reconnaissance-attack type), a maximum rate of climb of 20 m / s, and an (apparent) range of 300 km.

The CH-6 appears to be located in a capability gap between its brethren of medium-altitude, medium-endurance, and low-stealth unmanned combat aircraft – as well as the long-endurance, medium-altitude propeller surveillance types of the China – and at higher altitudes more advanced. – drones propelled by high-altitude, long-endurance and intelligence gathering jets. The fact that it can be armed from the start is a clear indication that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force is looking to push its unmanned kinetic capabilities further than is currently possible.

The jet speed of the aircraft will have a favorable impact on transit times to patrol areas or targets and will maximize its endurance once there. Dual engines would also increase reliability, which could be essential given the distances involved in operating an aircraft like this and the less developed state of Chinese jet engine technology. In fact, the Chinese unmanned aircraft that we know most similar to the CH-6 is probably the Cloud Shadow. This is a unique jet engine design that also has a lot in common with previous Chinese propeller combat drone designs, but it is smaller and lighter than the CH-6. Both planes can accomplish surveillance and kinetic missions, but the CH-6 would likely be even better suited to the former because of its size and weight, allowing multiple sensor systems – and larger ones – to be carried. over long distances and at higher altitudes. altitudes.

As far as the United States goes, the closest thing to the CH-6 is probably General Atomics’ Avenger, although the CH-6 puts less emphasis on low observability in its design and appears capable of higher altitude operations for certain types of missions. The Avenger could possibly be ranked better somewhere between the CH-6 and Cloud Shadow, in limited respects. In addition, the CH-6 is a simpler overall design.

This is a big deal, as it could provide China with a high-altitude, long-endurance ‘everyday’ platform that is not of a very sensitive or expensive nature to acquire and operate. It can be a platform that potentially delivers a kinetic punch, but can also carry larger sensors and other payloads if needed, all with the reliability of dual jet engines. Once again, this would close the unmanned flying “sensor truck” gap that exists between planes like the more advanced jet-powered Soar Dragon and the less capable propeller-driven TB-001. Being far from exquisite, especially compared to some of the stealth unmanned aircraft that China is currently pursuing, this means that the CH-6 can also likely be bought, and even lost, in large numbers.

With that in mind, the CH-6 might not be sexy or cutting edge, but it could prove hugely important to the long-term ambitions of the PLA.

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