DRC operating CH-4 UAVs

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The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the latest African nation to put the CH-4 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) into service after ordering nine from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Three CH-4s and a ground control station were seen at N’Dolo Airport in Kinshasha in a video that circulated last month, with one spotted taxiing past a hangar where another two were parked.

Satellite imagery seems to indicate a new hangar for the UAVs had been completed by May this year, with a taxiway leading off the main runway. Construction began around March.

Three CH-4s were apparently delivered from China in May out of an order for nine, Africa Intelligence reported, with remaining deliveries by year-end.

The UAVs have been acquired to help combat rebels in the conflict-ridden DRC, and form part of numerous other arms sales aimed at bolstering the DRC’s armed forces. South Africa, through Paramount, is for example supplying six Mwari light combat aircraft and Maatla light 4×4 protected vehicles.

The CH-4 was introduced in 2011 and has been in Chinese military service since 2014. The aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 1 330 kg and a payload of 345 kg in addition to its electro-optical turret and synthetic aperture radar. The CH-4 has a wingspan of 18 metres and length of 8.5 metres. It is powered by a 100 hp class piston engine giving a top speed of 235 km/h and cruise speed of 180 km/h with endurance of up to 40 hours. It can carry a varied armament including cluster bombs, guided bombs and missiles.

The CH-4 has been acquired by Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, while China’s similar Wing Loong is – in Africa – in service in Morocco and Egypt. Algeria is an enthusiastic user of Chinese UAVs, and took delivery of five CH-3s for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and five armed CH-4s – five armed CH-5s and Wing Loong IIs will also be delivered. Nigeria received several CH-3A UAVs in 2014 to combat Boko Haram terrorists, and is taking delivery of two Wing Loong II, four CH-4, and two CH-3 aircraft. Nigeria’s military is also getting Bayraktar TB2 UAVs from Turkey.

The United States’ unwillingness to supply export customers with armed UAVs means that nations like China are stepping in to fill the gap. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) notes that China has delivered 282 combat UAVs to 17 countries over the last decade, making it the world’s top seller of armed UAVs while the United States has only delivered 12 combat UAVs abroad in the same time (to France and the United Kingdom).