Chinese drone makes debut in Iraq

Iraqi flags fly above destroyed buildings in the rural Husayba al-Sharkiya area, east of Anbar province's capital Ramadi.
Iraqi flags fly above destroyed buildings in the rural Husayba al-Sharkiya area, east of Anbar province's capital Ramadi.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG • After more than a decade of fighting in Iraq, the names of the United States-made drones striking targets there have become familiar: Predator, Reaper, Sentinel.

But this month, a new model entered the fray: the Chinese-made Caihong-4. According to footage released by the Iraqi armed forces, soldiers used the Chinese drone on Dec 6 to destroy an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria position amid efforts to retake the city of Ramadi.

The lethal strike represents a major step forward in China's drive to become a leading exporter of military equipment, experts say. Iraq is the only known export user of the drone, also known as the CH-4, which closely resembles the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. Its first use in combat may be a selling point for potential buyers.

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This is the first time I've heard of a Chinese drone...and I suppose it would be cliche to say that it won't be the last.

MR RICHARD A. BITZINGER, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, wrote in an e-mail.

"This is the first time I've heard of a Chinese drone... and I suppose it would be cliche to say that it won't be the last," Mr Richard A. Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, wrote in an e-mail. He estimated that Iraq's armed forces had to buy six to 12 Chinese drones to conduct operations efficiently.

Mr Jeremy Binnie, Middle East/Africa editor at IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, wrote in an e-mail, referring to the Ministry of Defence: "When the Iraqi ministry officially unveiled them in October, two ground control stations could be seen... Given a typical set-up of two aircraft per control station, Iraq probably has at least four."

China also uses the CH-4. Its predecessor, the CH-3, has been sold to both Nigeria and Pakistan, he said. The CH-4, whose name translates as "Rainbow," is manufactured by the Beijing-based China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, a state-owned enterprise group.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'Chinese drone makes debut in Iraq'. Print Edition | Subscribe