What was the joke around the office almost the instant after Iran announced possession of an RQ-170 Sentinel?
“Look for the RQ-170 copy at the Zhuhai [air show] next year.”
If you’ll forgive the streak of cynicism, it seemed at the time like a fair swipe at the reverse-engineering skills and loose intellectual property safeguards in both Iran and China.
On the other hand, it may not be an entirely fair assessment of China’s need to copy the RQ-170′s technology. As this picture posted on the sinodefence forum yesterday reveals, China has been working hard to develop their own stealthy unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).
According to Yeo, the article describes two variants of the same UAV. The first variant, which is named “Crossbow”, appears to be the same stealthy-looking UAV spotted at the “Grand Prix” in Beijing two months ago. The second variant is called “Wind Blade”, and adds the extended wingspan and winglets you see above. Both variants have been designed by students at Shenyang University, which happens to be the home of one of China’s three largest manufacturers of combat aircraft.
The photo suggest China has at least reached the scale-model stage of stealth UAV development. That’s roughly where US industry stood in the mid-to-late 1990s. Depending on the age of these projects, it may only be a few years before the first full-scale model appears over Shenyang or Chengdu — and that’s with or without the RQ-170.