China’s ‘Dark Sword’: A Weapon the U.S. Military Can’t Match?


China’s ‘Dark Sword’: A Weapon the U.S. Military Can’t Match?
This video shows you that China’s ‘Dark Sword’: A Weapon the U.S. Military Can’t Match?

China appears to be making progress on a super-fast, stealthy, combat drone.

That’s at least one conclusion that can be drawn from a recently published photo that appears to show a full-scale mock up of China’s Dark Sword unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). The photo shows nearly twenty individuals— likely engineers at the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s (AVIC) Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute, which is designing the plane— standing in front of the model. If so, it is the first full-scale mock up to be seen in the public domain.

The existence of the Dark Sword drone dates at least as far back as a 2006 air show in China where concepts of the plane were first shown.

Its development has proceeded mostly in secret, making it hard to determine how much progress has been made or even, at various times, whether development was still occuring. The new image suggests that China has made decent progress on the drone, although it is still impossible to determine how much or whether the Chinese military will even ever purchase the plane.

What is clear is that Dark Sword is not your grandfather’s type of drone.

Most UAVs to date have been built for high endurance, ISR missions. Even the drones that are armed have traditionally been used to provide blanket intelligence over long periods of time before engaging their targets. By all appearances, the Dark Sword seems to be designed to engage in dog fights with other jets or long-range strikes. It bears far more resemblance to planes like America’s F-22 and F-35 or China’s J-20 than a Predator drone.

As David Axe notes over at The Daily Beast, several features indicate that the Dark Sword is meant to be stealthy. For starters, its paint seems to be the same kind of radar-absorbing coating that is found on fifth-generation fighters like the F-35, F-22, and J-20. Axe also notes that it has “special engine air inlet that can reduce detectability on radar while still enabling supersonic flight.”

In specific, as Tyler Rogoway explains, this technology is called a Diverterless Supersonic Inlet (DSI). A DSI was originally developed by Lockheed Martin and tested on an F-16 in the late 1990s. Subsequently, it was incorporated into the F-35. China also stole the DSI technology and now uses it on all its modern jets. A DSI comes with a number of advantages, as Rogoway points out:

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