China’s largest, self-developed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made its maiden flight in Gansu province Monday, according to local media. The drone's first flight lasted about 20 minutes, though it can reportedly stay in the air for over 30 hours.
The CH-5 UAV has a wingspan of 66 feet and a takeoff weight of about 3 tons. The drone, also known as the Rainbow 5, or Caihong 5, represents China’s entry into the heavyweight drone field, which has so far been dominated by the United States. The CH-5 has a wingspan similar to the U.S. Reaper drone.
The drone’s chief designer, Ou Zhongming of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said that the drone’s powerful wall-penetrating radar would change the way that military drones are used in counterterrorism missions.
Currently, Chinese drones do not have authorization to open fire on a target until they receive confirmation from ground personnel on targets within those buildings, but the new radar system would allow it to operate with little ground support.
“Terrorists have their hideouts. They can hide in a bush or in a house. That requires us to go through walls and identify the objects inside,” Ou said, according to the South China Morning Post.
The use of the wall-penetrating radar has also reportedly been used by several American drones in the Middle East. But another designer, Lan Wenbo, said the CH-5’s capabilities better equipped it for future warfare.
“It can also support and protect other drones with electronic warfare devices, such as suppressing the enemy’s radar. It will significantly increase the effectiveness of an attack,” Lan said.
The country’s civilian drone market is forecast to be worth about 50 billion yuan ($8.2 billion) in recent months, with over 400 companies involved.