Chinese CH-5 Rainbow Drones Purchased by Iraq Delivered

Iraq has revealed the Caihong-5 (CH-5) Rainbow Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drones purchased from China were delivered on Thursday, April 24th. 

The Iraqi Army Aviation Command (IAAC) has reportedly shown interest in the CH-5 since April 2023. From April 20th to 23rd this year, the IAAC stand at the International Defense Exhibition in Iraq (IQDEX) in Baghdad featured photographs of all in-service aircraft, including the CH-5 and current CH-4 of the 100th Squadron.

CH-5 on display at Airshow China in 2016. Source: China.org.cn

In September 2023, an unverified photograph depicting a man holding a certificate in front of another projected image showed the event as a “closing ceremony for CH-5 training,” near Chinese and Iraqi flags.

A second photograph shows the same certificate, revealing it to be the completion of CH-5 training courses. The name of the applicant was blurred; however, the document contains stamps from the Iraqi military attaché office in China and Chinese companies Poly Technologies and CH UAV Science and Technology Company.

During IQDEX, the Poly Technologies booth had a scale model of the CH-5 alongside the CH-5W, also known as the CH-9.

CH-4B vs CH-5

The IAAC uses the older CH-4A and CH-4B. The A variant is unarmed and purely for intelligence gathering, with the B variant carrying weapons. 

The CH-4B has a payload of 741 pounds (345 kg), a maximum takeoff weight of 2,900 pounds (1,300kg), an endurance time of 40 hours, six weapon slots, and a wingspan of 59 feet (18 meters).

The CH-5, by comparison, has a payload of 2,204 pounds (1,000 kg), a maximum takeoff weight of 6,000 pounds, an endurance time of 60 hours, 12 weapon slots, and a wingspan of 68 feet (21 meters).

The CH-4 and CH-5 carry munitions such as AR-1 and AR-2 air-to-ground missiles, AKD-10 anti-tank air-to-ground missiles, FT-7/130 130 kg glide bombs,  FT9-50 50kg bombs, and the GB-7/50 50 kg precision-guided munition (PGM).

Photo of an Iraqi CH-4. Source: Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

The CH-5 features a shared data link system, allowing it to cooperate with older CH-3 or CH-4 drones.

Analysis 

The longer endurance life, the greater payload, and the longer range of the CH-5 compared to the CH-4 could result in more effective intelligence gathering or strike missions against terror groups operating in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq acquiring the CH-5 could indicate a step toward improving its fleet of unmanned drones, as it only has the CH-4 and the Turkish Bayraktar TB2. As the world develops more unmanned equipment, such as aircraft, armored vehicles, and ships, Iraq could begin to acquire or manufacture similar systems.

The CH series reportedly has a low price, allowing nations with smaller defense budgets to purchase them. The low price may imply that other costs, such as maintenance or per flight hour, could be less expensive. Iraq is also the first nation to acquire the CH-5, as China continues to sell them weapons, possibly furthering relations.

The CH-5 also features a “shared data” concept, meaning it can share data between older generation CH aircraft, such as the CH-3 or the CH-4. The older CH-4s Iraq uses could remain in service due to shared data, playing a reconnaissance role while relaying information faster.

China selling the CH-5 to Iraq could also mark China wanting to remain one of the largest drone exporters in the world, trying to possibly undercut Western nations such as the United States

China has supplied drones to Myanmar, Pakistan, Nigeria, the UAE, and Indonesia, among other nations, and will likely continue doing so. Some nations China has sold to, such as Myanmar and Pakistan, have been accused of human rights violations, which could suggest China does not monitor or track cases of rights violations as closely, being willing to sell regardless, whereas the United States may not. 

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