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Airshow China 2021: CASC's twin-turbofan CH-6 armed reconnaissance UAV prototype breaks cover

Front view of the new CH-6 armed reconnaissance UAV, showing its chined fuselage, turbofan engine pods, and T-tail. (wanquanfoto/CAAA)

Chinese defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is taking the opportunity at Airshow China 2021, being held in Zhuhai from 28 September to 3 October, to unveil a prototype of its new strike-capable Cai Hong-6 (Rainbow-6, or CH-6) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Under development by CASC subsidiary China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA, also known as the 11th Academy) in Beijing, the CH-6 is a turbofan-powered, medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE)-class UAV primarily designed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and airborne strike operations at high subsonic speeds.

Janes understands from a company spokesperson that development of the CH-6 commenced in June 2019, with preliminary and critical design review completed in February 2020 and December 2020 respectively. Work transitioned into the engineering development phase in January, with the construction of the prototype completed in July.

“We anticipate that the prototype air vehicle's subsystem trials will be completed in February 2022, with ground testing and first flight expected in October,” the spokesperson said.

According to official specifications, the CH-6 has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 7,800 kg and will be offered in two configurations: an ISR variant with a 120 kg payload capacity and 21-hour flight endurance, as well as a strike variant with a 450 kg payload capacity and 18-hour flight endurance. An undernose electro-optical/infrared sensor turret is fitted as standard equipment for both variants, although an optional synthetic aperture radar can also be integrated.

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