An image of what appears to be 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) emerged on Chinese online news portals and social media on 5 June – nearly 12 years after a conceptual model of the platform was revealed at the Airshow China 2006 exhibition – fuelling a flurry of debate on its development status.
The undated photograph shows in the background a large, elongated, gunmetal-coloured 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 suggests 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 manoeuvrable supersonic unmanned air superiority or deep-strike platform.
That said, the concept of operations originally envisioned for the air vehicle is believed to have evolved since its public debut in 2006 to include other more benign applications such as a demonstrator for advanced manned aircraft design and flight control laws as well as a highly survivable, high-speed aerial target for air defence training and targeting.
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