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The military UAV market has been expanding. China has started commercial production of its CH-5 Rainbow drone, touted to be a rival to the US unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-9 Reaper, which could attack targets on the ground.

The mass-production model of the UAV completed its trial flight in north China, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

The first flight of a mass-produced CH-5 Rainbow, a heavy military drone signals China’s readiness to export it, said Wang Song, an associate professor with the school of aeronautic science and engineering at China’s Beihang University. He claimed that the drone equals that of the US General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, but at around half the cost. However, he admitted that the Chinese drone had a weakness compared to its American counterparts. The Reaper can climb to a height of between 12,000 and 15,000 metres. This allows the US drone to stay above the reach of most ground fire. China’s CH-5, on the other hand, cannot operate at more than 9,000 metres, which makes it vulnerable to some anti-aircraft weaponry.

According to ndtv.com, the limited ceiling of the Rainbow is a by-product of its relatively weak engine, according to Wang, who noted that China still lagged behind the West in aircraft engine technology. “This is in fact the weakness of all China-made aeroplanes,” he said.

US’ Reaper, or Predator B, was the world’s first unmanned aerial vehicle that could attack targets on the ground. At US $16.9 million, which makes it the world’s most expensive drone.

The Chinese UAV can conduct reconnaissance, surveillance, patrol, target positioning and strike missions, Shi Wen, chief engineer of the Rainbow drone project told the news agency. “We’ve made several modifications after its debut, and its comprehensive functions are among the world’s best,” Shi Wen claimed.

The CH-5 has a wingspan of 21 meters and is capable of carrying up to 1,000 kg of equipment. It can stay in the air for 60 hours with a range of more than 10,000 kilometers, Mr Shi said.

The UAV can also be used for civilian purposes such as resource surveying, marine environmental protection, disaster survey, marine law enforcement and emergency responses, Mr Shi said. “We will conduct more trial flights and might add fine changes to meet needs of various customers. We believe it will be a success in domestic and international markets,” he added.