The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation Cai Hong 7 unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). (Image source: Global TImes)

The CH-7: China’s latest unmanned combat air vehicle

Currently under development, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation Cai Hong 7 pays homage to unmanned aerial vehicle design of the recent past
[This Friday post is part of our “Composite coverage: real lightweight stuff” series and a departure from SAE International’s traditional reporting approach. Let us know if you like our fun, conversational, and most likely irreverent coverage of legitimate news and notable events.]  

The China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition held in Zhuhai, commonly known as Airshow China, is the country’s go-to event for debuting the their latest military and aerospace hardware. One those aircraft debuts – which might look familiar to engineers at Northrop Grumman – is the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) Cai Hong 7 unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV).

The Cai Hong 7 – “Rainbow 7” or CH-7 – is still under development by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA), a subsidiary of Beijing-based CASC. The design is a tailless “flying wing” with a dorsally-mounted central turbofan housing and stealth or low observable profile similar to the Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAV. Chinese media stated that the CH-7 is designed to “detect and destroy hostile strategic targets” with other reports suggesting that the two rear landing gear bays also serve as internal payload bays for electronic warfare systems, guided bombs, and various air-to-surface missiles. Payload capacity was not disclosed, though a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 13,000 kilograms (28660 pounds) was listed.

Read all of SAE International’s coverage of Airshow China 2018.

For reference, the X-47B UCAV has an MTOW is 20,215 kilograms (44,567 pounds) and can carry up to 2,000 kilograms (4,500 pounds) of ordnance. The lighter weight CH-7 will likely carry less.

The prototype’s 20-meter (65-foot) wings are swept back into a truncated diamond shape. All ventral landing gear and payload doors are serrated for low-observability and reduced radar cross section. (Image source: Global Times)

During the CH-7 debut, CASC presenters described a cruise altitude between 10,000 to 13,000 meters (32,808 to 42,650 feet) – on par with the X-47B – at a subsonic speed of 740 kilometers per hour (460 miles per hour) with a maximum airspeed of 926 kilometers per hour (575 miles per hour).

The Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAV. (Image source: Northrop Grumman)

Although range and endurance were not disclosed, likely CH-7 roles will include intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) and air defense.

A history of… compliments?

While there is some slight visual disparity between the CH-7 and the X-47B, that is not the case for one of CASC’s last UCAV, the fixed-wing CH-4.

The CH-4, almost identical to the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, was first produced in 2015 and just recently completed its first live fire test earlier this year. Beyond the physical parallels to United States hardware, CASC is also similarly pursuing active teaming and intelligence sharing, processing, and distribution between its CH-4 UCAVs.

The CH-4 test vehicle, equipped with satellite communications and AR-1 anti-tank munitions, completed live fire tests on February 5, 2018. (Image source: Global Times)

The General Dynamics MQ-( Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). (Image source: General Dynamics)

Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group (Chengdu) of Sichuan, China – a subsidiary of the Beijing-based Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has been developing and testing its own variants of the of the MQ-9 lookalike since 20011. Chengdu’s Wing Loong – or Pterodactyl I – is operated by 10 international customers.

AVIC is part of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), the same entity that owns CASC.

And just yesterday, during the 2018 China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) of China announced that it was acquired an updated Wing Long version of the aircraft for operational deployment.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at
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