The stealth drone is already operational and could see a carrier-borne variant soon.
Oct. 1, 2019, marks the 70th anniversary of the People Republic of China (PRC). During the massive military parade in Beijing, China’s military publicly unveiled new advanced drones, ballistic missiles, anti-ship missiles and the latest version of the venerable H-6 bomber, the H-6N.
Other than the well-known Wing Loong drone, the ones that generated most interest were the (supposedly) final version of the GJ-11 “Sharp Sword” supersonic stealth UCAV and the WZ-8 high altitude, high speed reconnaissance drone, the latter covered by our editor David Cenciotti.
The Sharp Sword drone (translation for the Chinese name Lijian), jointly developed by Shenyang Aerospace University, Hongdu Aviation Industry Group and Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute (both part of AVIC, Aviation Industry Corporation of China), is one of seven different models designed as part of the AVIC 601-S program and made its first appearance in 2013, when it flew for the first time.
The Sharp Sword follows the same flying wing concept adopted by western UCAVs like the X-47B, nEUROn and Taranis. Its main features are said to be the low observability, an unspecified long range and an internal payload in excess of 4400 pounds, housed in two weapons bays. According to available information, the drone is about 33 feet (10 m) long and has a wingspan of about 46 feet (14 m).
The powerplant should be a non-afterburning version of the WS-13 turbofan engine, hidden behind an S-duct inlet (also known as serpentine inlet). The standard WS-13 is being developed for the JF-17 “Thunder” and the J-31 “Falcon Eagle” fighters. The first prototype used a standard engine nozzle, while the drone showcased during the parade used a stealthier exhaust nozzle similar to the one of the X-47B.
The GJ-11 may also be further developed to operate from aircraft carriers, just like the X-47B. According to the South China Morning Post, sources from the Chinese Navy confirmed that a reconnaissance version of the drone is being developed and is expected to be commissioned later this year. The drone is intended to be deployed from the Type 001A aircraft carrier to reduce the technology gap with the US Navy. The main mission of the Naval Sharp Sword will be intelligence gathering “for ship-borne missile systems, enabling the missiles to accurately hit targets that are 300km to 400km away”, according to the same source.
Chinese news outlets also reported that Major General Tan Min, Executive Deputy Director of the Military Parade Joint Command Office, stated, during a press conference last week, that all weapons showcased during the parade are in active service, indicating that the new UCAV is not a demonstrator but it’s already operational in the PLAAF.