China’s first unmanned stealth drone made its first test flight in the latest advance for the domestic arms industry, state media reported Friday.
Photos and video of the tailless delta-wing drone flying were posted on the websites of People’s Daily and other major outlets. The location of the 20-minute flight made Thursday was identified only as a southwestern China testing base.
The jet powered drone was identified as the Lijian, or “Sharp Sword,” photos of which have been circulating for some time. The aircraft is similar to the X-47B drone being tested by the U.S. Navy for aircraft carrier operations, as well as France’s experimental Neuron project. Others have reported the drone is a reverse-engineered copy of Russia’s Mikoyan Skat unmanned aerial vehicle.
Potential uses for such an aircraft range from conducting electronic surveillance and to launching missile strikes. Some analysts have suggested the drone might someday be launched from China’s sole aircraft carrier, possibly to fly missions around China’s East China Sea and South China Sea island claims.
The capabilities of the drone and two manned stealth fighters, the J-20 and J-31, that China is developing aren’t known, although China’s arms industry is producing increasingly sophisticated weapons systems. Those include a large range of military drones.
However, China has had difficulty developing reliable, high-performance engines for its latest generation aircraft and observers on military websites said the Sharp Sword appeared to be equipped with Russian-made turbofan engines that reduced its radar-evading ability.