According to Chinese media reports, the country successfully tested a stealth drone on Thursday, the first of its kind to be put in the air by Beijing. The so-called "Sharp Sword" combat drone reportedly completed a 20-minute test flight near Chengdu without incident. Based on photos of the aircraft, the AFP notes that the "Sharp Sword" resembles a "shrunken US B2 bomber."
The test flight was reported widely in the Chinese media. And clearly, the country hopes the reports will send an international message. "The successful flight shows the nation has again narrowed the air-power disparity between itself and Western nations," the state-run China Daily wrote.
And then there's its possible effect on the ongoing rivalry with Japan: in September, China flew an unmanned aircraft near a group of islands claimed by both China and Japan. In response, Japan promised to shoot down any drones entering Japanese airspace in the future. China said in response that such an action would amount to "an act of war."
But it's not clear exactly how stealthy the new craft will be. Speaking to the AFP, Hong Kong-based military expert Andrei Chan noted that the drone's design appears to expose the engine, which is "a little bit naive" for stealth aircrafts. We know that China's drone technology is not on par with the U.S.'s, but it's catching up, as today's reports seem to support. In November, China unveiled its first killer drones. The country is also in the process of developing J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters. If confirmed, Thursday's tests would make China the fourth country to develop a stealth combat drone.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.