Update on military drones

MQ-9 Reaper flies above Creech Air Force Base, Nev., during a local training mission June 9, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo/Paul Ridgeway)

A few recent articles on military drones: New US variations in use, shootdown of military drones in combat zones, anti-drone technology, and increasing exports of Chinese drones.

My observation: the military drone arms race is on.

7/2/17 – UPI – New Reaper drone variant performs first combat mission – The first in a new series of MQ-9 Reaper drones flew its first combat mission. Referred to as the Block 5, the drone dropped a precision bomb (GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions) and fired two missiles (AM-114 Hellfire).

Oddly, the article says targets were ISIS positions but does not identify the country where the strike took place.

USAF Staff Sgt. aircraft armament systems specialist inspects an MQ-9 Reaper at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Aug. 18, 2014. The Reaper is launched, recovered and maintained here.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez/Released)

6/8/17 – Wall Street Journal – American Pilot Shoots Down Armed Drone in Syria – A drone, described as Predator-style, was shot down by a U.S. pilot after the drone fired on a patrol by forces the US supports.

The airplane was not identified, nor whether it was Navy or Air Force. The specific type drone was not mentioned, nor the people controlling it. The drone missed the patrol, but carried other weapons that were a continuing threat to the patrol.

Article says a dozen countries have armed drones. In February ’16, Iran fired from one of its Shahed 129 drones in Syrian.

6/15/17 – Air Force Times – Air Force buys 100 Dronebuster devices for security forces – Current anti-drone devices weigh in at 30 pounds. USAF just bought 100 that will weigh 5 pounds. The device will operate on several frequencies to jam the signal that drones receive. It looks somewhat like a radar gun that police use.

7/17/17 – Wall Street Journal – Unable to Buy U.S. Military Drones, Allies Place Orders With China – In order to halt the spread of military drones, the U.S. has banned the export of military grade drones. Only England flys our drones.

Israel is a big seller of drones, but not to customers anywhere in the Middle East.

To fill the orders of forces who want to make use of this powerful new technology, into the breach steps….China.

Chinese drones have been spotted in many countries on surveillance photos; 8 specific sightings are mentioned in the article. Table in the article lists 10 countries that are known to have purchased between 2 (UAE) and 18 (Egypt) drones from China for total of 70 known sales. Oddly, the article does not mention any Iranian drones.

Here is my tally of the purchased drones. All of these are produced in China:

  • 30 – CH-3, Rainbow 3
  • 8 – CH-4
  • 6 – Wing Loong 1
  • 18 – ASN-209
  • 2 – WJ-600

A Wing Loong with  price tag of $1M is comparable to a Predator at about $5M.

A Chinese CH-5 is comparable to a Reaper at price tag of $15M. The CH-5 has a loiter time of 24 hours according to a potential customer from Saudi Arabia; the manufacturer says the loiter time is closer to 40 hours. (See estimate of 60 hours in last article of this post.)

Pressure is building from US manufacturers to open up exports.

7/17/17 – Janes – China ‘ready to mass produce’ strike-capable CH-5 UAV, says report – A report from China Daily newspaper asserts China is ready to mass-produce the Cai Hong 5 (also referred to as the CH-5 or Rainbow 5) drone.

The head designer of the CH-5 says it matches the performance of an MQ-9 Reaper, with flight duration of 60 hours and ceiling of 7,000 meters (22,965 feet, say 23,000).

From a nose-on view, it sure does look like a Reaper. I can’t find a photo of any CH series drones that I can reprint.

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