Crafty China Likely Based CH-6 on Stolen U.S. Technology

September 30, 2021 Topic: CH-6 Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaDronesCH-6Air ForceCyber Espionage

Crafty China Likely Based CH-6 on Stolen U.S. Technology

China’s efforts to rip-off U.S. designs via cyber-espionage is a longstanding concern among U.S. military officials.

China appears to have developed a modern rendition or “look-alike rip-off” of the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance drones.

It has become all too familiar, instances wherein the People’s Liberation Army unveils a drone, fighter jet, bomber or even infantry carrier which looks extremely similar in external equivalent to a U.S. platform which emerged years earlier. China’s efforts to rip-off U.S. designs via cyber-espionage is a longstanding concern among U.S. military officials, and the newly created CH-6 Chinese large, high-altitude, high-speed, long-endurance drone appears to be no exception. 

The front of the CH-6 looks wider and more rounded than an MQ-9 Reaper, RQ-4 Global Hawk or MQ-4C Triton, yet its described mission functionality sounds nearly identical to the successful U.S. drones.

There is an interesting comparison to be made between the emerging CH-6 and RQ-4 Global Hawk. A Chinese-backed newspaper Global Times cites sensor payload information nearly identical to what a Global Hawk operates with. The CH-6 reportedly flies with EO/IR cameras, Synthetic Aperture Radar, Early Warning Radar and electronic reconnaissance systems, technologies known to exist on RQ-4 Global Hawks and MQ-9 Reapers. Unlike the RQ-4 Global Hawk yet similar to the MQ-9 Reaper, the CH-6 is reportedly armed with air-to-ground missiles, bombs, anti-radiation missiles and even loitering munitions. However, with its upgraded universal weapons interface, the MQ-9 Reaper’s arsenal may be far superior to that of the new CH-6. In recent years, the Air Force has been systematically expanding the MQ-9 Reaper’s weaponry to include a wide selection of precision-guided missiles, air-dropped glide bombs and even the air-to-air AIM-9X Sidewinder.

The size of the CH-6 is nearly identical to the MQ-9 Reaper as well, as both drones are reported to operate with a roughly twenty-meter wingspan. By contrast, the RQ-4 Global Hawk has almost twice the wingspan. Also, the Air Force has upgraded the MQ-9 Reaper and lengthened its wingspan in a new variant to almost eighty feet to add endurance. The Global Times says its CH-6 can stay in the air for as long as twenty hours, however, that is far less time in the sky than the RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-9 Reaper. Both the RQ-4 Global Hawk and extended-range MQ-9 Reaper are able to sustain missions for as long as forty hours, nearly twice that of the Chinese CH-6. This would suggest that the extra fuel tanks added to the MQ-9 Reaper in recent years have greatly improved its operational functionality and, despite it being a much older weapons platform, the MQ-9 Reaper seems to match or exceed the performance characteristics of the CH-6. Both the MQ-9 Reaper and the CH-6 report a maximum altitude of roughly fifty thousand feet.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. 

Image: Reuters