China has unveiled a prototype or scale model of the Anjian (Dark Sword) jet-powered unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). The image showcased the Dark Sword parked behind a team from the program, presumably engineers.
Developed by Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) subsidiary Shengyang Aircraft, the Dark Sword strongly resembles a concept model that was first seen in 2006. The streamlined design features canards ahead of a delta wing, twin slanted vertical stabilizers, and a single engine. The latest image also suggests a diverterless supersonic inlet design, similar to those found on the Shenyang J-10C fighter. The 2006 publicity described the Dark Sword as a “supersonic, super maneuverable, and low observable platform for future air-to-air missions.”
The Dark Sword seems to be of similar size to the Chengdu J-20, and Chinese observers estimate the UCAV to possess similar specifications as the fifth-generation fighter, with a takeoff weight of around 15 tonnes, a payload of one tonne and an operational radius of approximately 1,000 km. If designed for air-to-air combat, the UCAV may outperform Western manned fighters, with turn rates beyond 9 g.
Having successfully introduced the J-20 and its stealth technology to service, China is quickly transferring these applications to unmanned platforms. China is often alleged to be reverse-engineering Western design and technology, but the country is now revealing more UCAV variants than the West. It has already developed a range of jet-powered unmanned systems, such as the Guizhou Soar Eagle and Chengdu Cloud Shadow. These are reconnaissance platforms, but more recently China has been developing the Chengdu Sharp Sword UCAV and has revealed the Star Shadow concept by Star UAV.