China has been claiming it is working on stealthy UCAVs for some time. Some are clearly demonstrators that are going nowhere, like the AVIC 601-S,
what appears to be a version of the Mikoyan Skat UAV from Russia. Several others have been worked on as well, most of them with an eye towards
testing flying wings and working towards what the US and Europe has done with the X-47B and the Taranis, respectively. However, something of an
outlier as been the Dark Sword.
Dark Sword showed up a while back in conferences and airshows as a concept model. The Chinese were not really trying to hide it. Just weren't
having a lot of folks wander into the factory where it was being built and the airstrip where it was tested. Supposedly, some time later, a subscale
model was flown:
The pix of it have not been great, so I've been a bit skeptical. Not hugely so, but in this day and age of photoshop and bot based image & video
manipulation, one must be a little skeptical. It would have implied the Dark Sword was really a demonstrator for a VSTOL aircraft (or UAV). We know
they have been working on one. This would imply the Dark Sword was meant to test out tech associated with VSTOLs like our F-35B or the Russian
Yak-141/41 or the old Harriers. Note: the coverable intake revealed in the photo.
However, today, at least in the Western militaria blogosphere, this image emerged:
I can't claim credit for the photo. This is from Rogoway, our newest love to hate aviation writer. He puts his own spin on it.
His take is the Dark Sword is meant to be a high performance penetrator, like the J-20 is supposed to be. And he does, correctly point out a number
bits in support of that hypothesis. The presence of the canards detracts from that somewhat, but may increase maneuverability...which is an odd
choice for a stealthy UCAV at this point. The shape is definitely NOT a flying wing though and looks more intended for higher speeds.
Any which way, if China starts serial manufacture, this could be very troubling. OTOH, this could also just be an X plane like what we do. That's
still troublesome, but not as much as if the Chinese think this is operationally sound.
I wish we had more info. Or at least a couple more shots from different angles. Time will tell.