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China's 1st Combat Drone Completes Maiden Test Flight

China's 'Sharp Sword' Combat Drone
China's "Sharp Sword" combat drone on the runway at a test facility in Southewest China. (Image credit: YouTube screengrab from JDUS2020)

China conducted a successful test flight of its first combat drone last week, according to state-run media reports, becoming only the fourth nation to fly unmanned, jet-powered stealth vehicles.

On Nov. 21, the drone, called Lijian or "sharp sword," took off from a test facility in Southwest China and flew around for almost 20 minutes, according to China Daily, a state-run newspaper.

The publication said the test flight represents a significant breakthrough in Chinese aerial prowess, and demonstrates "the nation has again narrowed the air-power disparity between itself and Western nations."

Few other details are known about the Sharp Sword drone, which could be used for missile strikes or reconnaissance. Some civilian observers did, however, manage to capture photos and videos of last week's test flight. The delta-wing aircraft appears to be equipped with a Russian jet engine that could be replaced by domestically built alternatives, once Chinese engines enter production, Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief at Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told China Daily.

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Denise Chow
Denise Chow is the Assistant Managing Editor at Live Science. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for Space.com, where she wrote about rocket launches and covered NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.