Does China have a stealth drone?

While Iran’s got a somewhat less than "Epic" new propeller-powered UAV, China might be jumping on the stealth drone bandwagon sooner than you thought. Extremely blurry photos posted on Internet forums over the past few months may show a Chinese stealth UAV, supposedly called the Lijan or Sharp Sword, along the lines of the U.S. ...

secretprojects.co.uk
secretprojects.co.uk
secretprojects.co.uk

While Iran's got a somewhat less than "Epic" new propeller-powered UAV, China might be jumping on the stealth drone bandwagon sooner than you thought.

Extremely blurry photos posted on Internet forums over the past few months may show a Chinese stealth UAV, supposedly called the Lijan or Sharp Sword, along the lines of the U.S. Navy's X-47B.

Until now, we've seen photos of Chinese-made versions of propeller-driven drones that strongly resemble their American counterparts like the MQ-9 Reaper.

While Iran’s got a somewhat less than "Epic" new propeller-powered UAV, China might be jumping on the stealth drone bandwagon sooner than you thought.

Extremely blurry photos posted on Internet forums over the past few months may show a Chinese stealth UAV, supposedly called the Lijan or Sharp Sword, along the lines of the U.S. Navy’s X-47B.

Until now, we’ve seen photos of Chinese-made versions of propeller-driven drones that strongly resemble their American counterparts like the MQ-9 Reaper.

We’ve also seen photos of what may be a Chinese attempt at building a jet-powered spy drone similar to the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high-altitude strategic spy plane.

China has been developing what amount to mock-ups and model airplanes of stealth drones for years now. But it’s unclear whether the plane shown above is an actual production jet, or just another mock up. (It might also be a fake, like this false image of a Chinese stealth jet that was circulating the Internet in 2011.)

While there’s no way of verifying these grainy photos show a plane that could actually fly, Wired’s Danger Room points out that the Pentagon’s latest report on Chinese military capabilities says that the PLA is working to field "Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles [that] will increase China’s ability to conduct long-range reconnaissance and strike operations."  The Pentagon usually describes stealth drones like the X-47B and others with very similar language.

Some online forums claim the aircraft is being built for use by the Chinese air force and navy and that it conducted ground tests in December 2012 and is being readied for a flight test later this year. The introduction of such a weapon would make sense given the PLA’s desire to project greater power throughout the Western Pacific. A partial list of platforms to support this strategy includes the J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters, aircraft carriers, and strategic jet transport planes.

The U.S. Navy is hoping to have a fleet of carrier-launcher stealth jet drones that can perform long-range surveillance and strike missions by the early 2020s. The Navy sees these jets as key to its strategy of operating in the Pacific Ocean, particularly since China’s development of weapons aims to keep U.S. ships far from its shores. The battle for unmanned aerial supremacy is definitely heating up.

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.