China has successfully tested its first stealth drone, joining the elite group of four nations in the world to develop the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle.
Pictures of the 'Sharp Sword', resembling a smaller version of the US B2 bomber, were released by Chinese official media after the aircraft conducted its test flight in Chengdu in southwest China yesterday, marking the country's advancement towards the Western-level technology.
The flight that took place lasted for about 20 minutes. "The successful flight shows the nation has again narrowed the air-power disparity between itself and Western nations," China Daily reported.
Several pictures showed a delta-wing drone in flight with one photo showing its takeoff.
The news and photos have since been widely forwarded by major news websites, including state-run Xinhua news agency.
The Sharp Sword was developed by the Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute and manufactured by Hongdu Aviation Industry Group, military observers said. Both belong to Aviation Industry Corp of China, the nation's leading aircraft manufacturer.
The drone has been called China's equivalent to the US' Northrop Grumman X-47 series and the Dassault nEUROn.
The BAE Systems Taranis from Britain has also successfully finished its first flight.
"With the test flight on Thursday, China became the fourth power in the world, after the US, the European Union and the United Kingdom, capable of putting a stealth drone into the sky," the report said.
"The drone can be used for reconnaissance and an air-to-ground strike, but more importantly, it has a huge potential for aircraft carriers," said Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief at Aerospace Knowledge magazine.
"I think the size and technological capability of the Sharp Sword make it a suitable choice for the navy if it is to select an unmanned combat platform for its aircraft carrier," he said.
Wang said that the high visibility on the sea and the advanced radar used on modern battleships mean the carrier-based aircraft must have excellent stealth technology to evade detection, which in turn provide a good opportunity for the stealth drone.