China’s new stealthy unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), dubbed Sharp Sword by the domestic media, shows its eagerness to catch up in the field of drone technology.
It bears a striking similarity in its overall shape to the bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, built by the US company Lockheed Martin and operated by the Americans since around 2007.
China is thus well-behind the Americans but is fast developing an impressive UAV capability of its own.
Little is known about the precise specifications and capabilities of the Chinese drone.
What is clear from recent air shows and the Chinese technical press is that China has developed a variety of UAVs matching virtually every category deployed by the US.
They range from small tactical drones of limited endurance to much larger systems that look strikingly like US Reaper or Predator models, and just like their US counterparts some of these Chinese drones are equipped with hard-points on their wings to carry munitions.
The two leading players in the drone club – the US and Israel – have developed UAVs for a variety of purposes. These range from intelligence-gathering to strikes against targets on the ground.
Not surprisingly, China sees UAVs in exactly the same light.
UAVs are fast becoming an especially useful tool for Beijing in monitoring activity over contested areas of the South China and East China Seas.
They are also an easy way to demonstrate presence in a disputed zone. China is believed to have converted a number of out-of-date J-6 fighters into UAVs, which may well be being used to monitor the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
Japan hopes to deploy advanced US-built drones for similar surveillance purposes.