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China has revealed the first photographs of a hypersonic unmanned fighter aircraft, ‘Dark Sword’ dubbed as the first sixth generation fighter jet. It is believed to be an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is capable of flying like a fighter jet.
If and when Dark Sword actually enters service, it could give the Chinese air force a big advantage over its rivals, including the U.S. Air Force. The United States and Europe are both developing stealthy drones and fast drones. But no other country besides China is openly working on a single combat UAV design that is both stealthy and fast.
The Dark Sword drone is the latest in a long line of jet-powered unmanned aerial vehicles that the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and sister firms have been developing since the early 2000s.
The UAV first appeared in a photo that began circulating on social media in early June 2018. The photo depicts a sleek, roughly 30-foot-long aircraft bearing several of the signature features of supersonic stealth warplanes.
The new photo, leaked to Chinese media, 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 1,190kph, an unprecedented speed for unmanned military aircraft. The current top speed for unmanned service aircraft is around 480kph, achieved by the US MQ-9 Reaper drone, according to dailymail.co.uk.
Dark Sword has not been observed in flight and some skeptics have questioned whether it’s a functional aircraft or merely a non-flying mock-up. Todd Humphreys, a drone expert at the University of Texas, told nationalinterest.org he believes the object in the photo is indeed legit. “Given China’s historical interest in developing drones for combat, and their proven prowess in supersonic and stealthy aircraft,” Humphreys said, “my guess is that this photo shows a real working combat UAV, not a mock-up.”
Shenyang probably intends Dark Sword to function as a pilotless stealth fighter that can fly faster than the speed of sound and avoid detection by enemy sensors.
The Chinese drone’s dark-colored exterior could point to the kind of radar-absorbing coating that’s also found on the F-35 and J-20. Dark Sword’s sharp angles could also help hide it from the enemy as it speeds past.