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Caveat Emptor: Why China’s Cheap Military Drones Are so Cheap

China’s CH-4 killer drone appears to be falling out of favor with some of its major operators. This first appeared in August 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest. The Iraqi air force is down to just one operational CH-4 out of a fleet of around 10, according to an August 2019 report from the U.S. inspector-general.

Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led operation targeting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, told the inspector-general that maintenance problems have grounded most of the Iraqi CH-4s.

The CH-4 is roughly similar to the U.S.-made MQ-1 Predator. The Chinese unmanned aerial vehicle, which is remotely-controlled via satellite and can carry a variety of missiles, briefly was popular among Middle East militaries that balked at the cost, politics and paperwork associated with acquiring armed drones from the United States.

But the Chinese drones seem to be going out of style. The Jordanian air force in June 2019 put up for sale its own six CH-4s.

It’s unclear why Amman is trying to get rid of its CH-4s just three years after acquiring them. But it’s possible the divestment is related to Jordan’s ongoing efforts to source Predator-style drones from the United States.

Jordan bought the missile-armed CH-4s around 2016 after the administration of U.S. president Barack Obama rejected Amman’s request for MQ-1s.

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