On Oct. 1, 2019, Beijing hosted a military parade to commemorate China’s 70th anniversary. It was the largest in China’s recent history, with around 15,000 military personnel, 160 aircraft, 580 pieces of military hardware and equipment, and 59 formations in total.
Several interesting pieces of hardware were unveiled during the parade, including the China new GJ-11 sharp sword stealth bomber UCAV.
Send in the drones . . . pic.twitter.com/373AtTWTKe
— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) October 1, 2019
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.
Pictures of Sharp Sword first emerged on Chinese social media in 2013 and that same year a prototype conducted its first flight. At that time, the design featured an engine arrangement with a completely exposed and decidedly non-stealthy exhaust.
The GJ-11 displayed now has a concealed exhaust and generally more streamlined rear aspect. The intake may also have been revised. It is impossible to tell from the available pictures and video from the parade whether either the intake or exhaust systems feature any sort of ducting that could further conceal the engine, especially its fan face, and further improve the drone’s stealth qualities. It seems safe to assume that incorporating these design features would at least be the eventual goal.
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.