A new type of unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) called Lijian (“Sharp Sword”) make its maiden flight successfully on 20 November at a flight test site in southwest China. The UCAV is believed to be designed by Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute (601 Institute) and built by Hongdu Aircraft Industries Corporation (HAIC) in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province. According to reports on Chinese Internet, the first flight of the UCAV prototype, carrying a serial number ‘001’, lasted for 17 minutes.
Resembling the U.S. Navy’s Northrop Grumman X-47B and British BAE Systems Taranis in appearance, Lijian has adopted a tailless flying-wing layout, with a triangle-shaped air inlet mounted above the nose. The design would have reduced the vehicle’s radar signature significantly. The UCAV is reportedly powered by a single Russian RD-93 turbofan engine, a mature design which has also been used to power the Chengdu FC-1/JF-17 Thunder multirole flight aircraft. No IR reduction measures can be seen on the engine nozzle.
The new UCAV is believed to be intended primarily for ground attack roles, capable of delivering GPS/Beidou-guided bombs and air-to-surface missiles inside its internal weapon bay. At this stage it is not known how autonomous the UCAV is, and how long its maximum range is.
China has introduced a whole range of UAV and UCAV programmes in the past decade, some of which have already entered batch production and operational service. However, a large jet-powered UCAV like Lijian would bring significant new capabilities to the Chinese military.