Wednesday, May 15, 2013

China Testing Stealthy Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle

China is now testing its own demonstrator of a stealthy Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) that is somewhat similar to those that have appeared in several other countries, including:
  • Northop Grumman X-47 Pegasus from the United States
  • Boeing X-45 and Phantom Ray from the United States
  • BAE Taranis from the United Kingdom
  • Dassault nEUROn in cooperation with various European countries
China had started displaying models of UCAV's several years ago at previous Zhuhai Air Shows.

These models have now been succeeded by an actual flying design. This makes it similar to the fifth-generation J-31, which also appeared in model form before making its first flight last year.

Thought to be a possible successor to fifth-generation fighter designs, these UCAV's all share more or less similar features, including:
  • Very low observable or stealthy delta-wing design
  • Blended all-wing design
  • No vertical stabilizer or tailless design
  • Unmanned with no pilot for semi-autonomous or potentially fully-autonomous operations
Such sixth-generation designs would mark the first time that the pilot, which has always been part of any fighter, would be absent.

As fighter aircraft have become more sophisticated, the pilot has increasingly become the limiting factor in fighter performance. Removing the pilot offers substantial advantages, but create their own technical challenges.

Using a tailless design is also another substantial challenge that's being pursued. Accomplishing these two goals would in theory revolutionize fighter performance, assuming that current problems can be resolved.

None of these UCAV's are anywhere close to becoming operational, but a lot of resources is being allocated into research and development. It will be interesting to see what their role will be in the future.

Credit original poster, via Chinese Internet

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