For around a decade, rumors have swirled about China’s advanced unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) with the most-metal of names, the Dark Sword. It’s been no secret that the Dark Sword has been in development, but for the most part, that development has been slow going. Artist’s renderings, scale models, and a whole lot of conjecture have really characterized the endeavor to this point, but an image that surfaced on Chinese social media this week seems to indicate that the Dark Sword may finally have found its way into reality.
Or at least, something that looks like it has.
The image appears to show a full sized Dark Sword, though that alone offers little evidence of an operational aircraft. The photo could just as easily be of a full-sized mock up produced for marketing or even wind tunnel purposes. While it could feasibly be an operational prototype (or even one of multiple Dark Sword test beds) it could just as easily be nothing more than a facsimile of what the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation tasked with its development expects the final product to look like. Bearing that in mind, some of the claims made on mainstream news sites regarding this new image may seem a bit … exaggerated.
While the picture released on Chinese internet may not necessarily suggest anything about the expected production volume (or even if production has started at all) this image, along with previously released renderings of the aircraft do offer some insights into how China hopes to utilize this platform in the future. The shape of the UCAV itself is evidence to suggest that stealth was a priority in development, but unlike other platforms designed specifically with stealth in mind, it appears that the Dark Sword was born of two masters: the aforementioned stealth, as well as the ability to sustain and maneuver at high speeds.