Meet The "Dark Sword": China's Sixth Generation Stealth Fighter

Days before the Singapore summit, where the first-ever sitting between an American president and a North Korean leader occurred on Tuesday, Beijing released an image of what appears to be a prototype or scale model of the Chinese ‘Dark Sword’ unmanned stealth fighter, already dubbed a “nightmare for the U.S.,” which could be the world’s first “sixth generation” stealth jet.

Beijing has been making headlines for its rapid military modernization efforts while it attempts superpower status. As of recent, Beijing announced the deployment of fifth-generation fighter jetstesting of hypersonic aircraft and missiles, and even conducted live-fire war exercises in the South China Sea, which should not be taken lightly.

According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, an undated photograph shows a full-scale model or technology demonstrator of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC)’s An Jian (Dark Sword) unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) published on numerous Chinese online news sites on June 05.

An image showing what appears to be a full-scale Dark Sword UCAV model. (Source: Via CJDBY.net)

The recent picture is now “fueling a flurry of debate on its development status,” said Jane’s Defence Weekly.

Kelvin Wong, a Singapore-based defense analyst for Jane’s Defence Weekly, describes the supersonic and stealthy characteristics of Dark Sword:

“The photograph shows in the background a large, elongated, gunmetal-colored airframe with canard surfaces and a ventral engine air intake that adopts a diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) design. The Chinese characters for ‘dark’ and ‘sword’ are clearly emblazoned on the platform along the air intake’s port side, although the image does not capture the rest of the airframe beyond its mid-section, except for a glimpse of a canted starboard vertical tail.

Additionally, saw-tooth edges can be seen on the Dark Sword’s port side landing gear door before the rest of the air vehicle is out of the frame.

Details of the UCAV’s physical dimensions and capabilities remain undisclosed, but visual estimation using the group of 19 unidentified persons in the foreground – presumably the Dark Sword’s engineering team – as markers suggest that the platform is at least 12 m in length.

The Dark Sword UCAV is understood to be an effort by AVIC’s Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute (also known as the 601 Aircraft Design Institute) to develop a highly maneuverable supersonic unmanned air superiority or deep-strike platform.”

Allegedly, a conceptual model of the aircraft was revealed at the Airshow China 2006 exhibition, which was more than 12-years ago. The streamlined design, coupled with a delta wing and twin slanted verticle stabilizers appear almost identical on the 2006 model versus the full-scale aircraft (shown below).

Justin Bronk, an air-combat strategist at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that the Dark Sword “represents a very different design philosophy” than the U.S. sixth-generation fighter jet plans.

Bronk examined the image of the Dark Sword and drew the conclusion that the jet was developed for supersonic flight rather than full stealth capabilities.

“The Chinese have gone with something that has a longer body, so it’s stable in pitch. It’s got these vertical, F-22 style vertical stabilizers,” which suggest it’s “geared towards supersonic performance and fighter-style capability.”

“Something like this could transit to areas very fast, and, if produced in large numbers without having to train pilots, could at the very least soak up missiles from US fighters, and at the very best be an effective fighter by itself,” said Bronk. “If you can produce lots of them, quantity has a quality all its own.”

Having deployed the Chengdu J-20, a stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft developed by China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, it seems as Beijing is swiftly transferring these applications to unmanned platforms.

China could be ready to jump into the golden era of unmanned aircraft after it has spent years reverse-engineering Western design and technology. How will Washington respond?