China unveils unmanned ‘Dark Sword’ stealth combat drone

China unveils its unmanned ‘Dark Sword’ fighter jet that could fly at supersonic speeds and prove a ‘nightmare’ for US defences

  • Deadly aircraft codenamed Dark Sword has been rumoured for over a decade 
  • A new photo appears to finally show a full-sized version of the military vehicle 
  • Dark Sword is an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of flying like a fighter jet
  • It could give China a huge advantage if it is able to mass-produce the aircraft 
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China has unveiled an unmanned fighter jet that could fly at supersonic speeds and prove a ‘nightmare’ for US defence systems.

The deadly aircraft, codenamed Dark Sword, has been rumoured for over a decade but a new photo appears to finally show a full-sized version of the military vehicle.

Much about Dark Sword remains a mystery, but experts believe it is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is capable of flying like a fighter jet.

Dark Sword could give China a huge advantage if its military is able to mass-produce the aircraft, as it could rapidly expand its fighter fleet without training new pilots.

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China has finally unveiled its unmanned combat drone Dark Sword after a decade of rumours. A new photo appears to show the aircraft has a supersonic intake vent and stabilisers like the US F-22 Raptor jet, suggesting it is designed for use as a fighter jet rather than a stealth drone

The new photo, leaked to Chinese media this week, shows a sleek black aircraft with a front-facing vent typical of supersonic jets.

This means Dark Sword could travel at speeds of up to 740 miles per hour (1,190kph), an unprecedented speed for unmanned military aircraft.

The current top speed for unmanned service aircraft is around 300 miles per hour (480kph), achieved by the US MQ-9 Reaper drone.

Justin Bronk, an expert at the London-based British defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, analysed photos of the aircraft, concluding its design suggests it could ‘transit to areas very fast’.

‘If produced in large numbers without having to train pilots, [the aircraft] could at the very least soak up missiles from US fighters, and at the very best be an effective fighter by itself,’ Bronk told Business Insider.

‘If you can produce lots of them, quantity has a quality all its own.’

The vehicle appears to have vertical stabilisers at the rear like the US military’s F22 fighter jet, suggesting it is geared toward speed and manoeuvrability over stealth.

This hints China is building the aircraft for use as a combat jet rather than a reconnaissance or precision missile strike vehicle, like the unmanned MQ-1 Predator drone used by US forces.

‘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,’ Bronk said.


Dark Sword made its debut at the Zhuhai Airshow in southern China’s Guangdong province in 2006. All that military experts have had to work with since is unconfirmed images of what appeared to be a sub-scale remote model of the vehicle, leaked in 2011 (pictured)

These suggest the aircraft is ‘geared towards supersonic performance and fighter-style capability’. 

The fighter jet represents a marked difference in the directions of the Chinese and US airforces.

The Pentagon has largely shelved all of its unmanned fighter jet programmes in favour of more reliable manned technology.

Much of its unmanned capacity comes in the form of reconnaissance drones that deliver precision missile air-to-ground missile strikes.

Dark Sword ‘represents a very different design philosophy’ than US unmanned combat plans, Bronk said.

WHAT IS CHINA’S DARK SWORD UNMANNED FIGHTER JET?

China’s Dark Sword is a rumoured unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that flies like a fighter jet.

Dark Sword – known in Chinese as ‘Anjian’ – made its debut at the Zhuhai Airshow in southern China’s Guangdong province in 2006.

The model was subsequently exhibited at the Paris Air Show, but details of the jet’s development have since been kept tightly under wraps.

All that military officials have had to work with is unconfirmed images of what appeared to be a sub-scale remote model of the vehicle, leaked in 2011. 


Dark Sword made its debut at China’s Zhuhai Airshow in 2006. The model (pictured) was subsequently exhibited at the Paris Air Show – but details of the craft’s development have since been kept tightly under wraps

Little about the aircraft is known, but images show it features a front-facing vent typical of supersonic jets.

This would mean Dark Sword could travel at up to 740 miles per hour (1,190kph), an unprecedented speed for an unmanned military aircraft.

The current top speed for unmanned service aircraft is around 300 miles per hour (480kph), achieved by the US Reaper drone.

The world’s fastest unmanned aircraft was Nasa’s X-43A, an experimental hypersonic jet that hit Mach 9.6 (around 7,000mph/11,200kph) during a test flight in 2004.

Dark Sword has vertical stabilisers at the rear like the US F22 Raptor, suggesting it is geared toward speed and manoeuvrability over stealth.

This hints China is building the craft for use as a fighter jet rather than a reconnaissance or precision missile strike vehicle, like the US Predator drone.

Dark Sword could give China a huge advantage if its military is able to mass-produce the aircraft, as it could rapidly expand its fighter fleet without training new pilots.

Dark Sword – known in Chinese as ‘Anjian’ -made its debut at the Zhuhai Airshow in southern China’s Guangdong province in 2006.

The model was subsequently exhibited at the Paris Air Show – but has since been kept tightly under wraps.

All that military experts have had to work with since is unconfirmed images of what appeared to be a sub-scale model of the vehicle, leaked in 2011.

While the UAV would be the world’s fastest unmanned military jet, it would come nowhere near the record for the quickest ever pilot-less flight.

That accolade goes to Nasa’s X-43A scramjet, an experimental hypersonic vehicle that hit Mach 9.6 (around 7,000mph/11,200kph) during a test flight in 2004. 

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