According to Chinese state media, the country has completed the first test flight of its new stealth drone. The Lijian, which translates to “Sharp Sword” in English, flew for nearly 20 minutes while presumably taking-off and landing somewhere near Chengdu in Central China.
As part of its announcement, the China Daily newspaper proclaimed that “The successful flight shows the nation has again narrowed the air-power disparity between itself and Western nations.”
While there has been speculation among military analysts about the origins of the Sharp Sword’s design, most experts agree that Lijian is either a reverse-engineered model of the US’s X-47B or Russia’s (now mothballed) Mikoyan Skat.
Beyond the Lijian’s airframe, little is known about the craft’s abilities. A fact that has prompted much doubt about how close the Sharp Sword is to combat readiness. Apart from its visible airframe, a state of the art drone requires advanced robotic flight controls; secure and robust uplink capabilities; and a series of other sophisticated features.
Regardless of whether China has reverse engineered a Russian or American craft, many still believe that Chinese engineers have a long way to go before their advanced drone enters a mature, combat ready state.
The announcement of the Lijian has also inspired a sharp focus on the trouble with reverse engineering complex systems. Regardless of how thorough a reverse-engineering project is, it doesn’t provide a company or country the manufacturing methods or infrastructure or necessary for efficient production.
So even though imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, it’s a terrible drain on innovation. The best engineering firms break new ground; they don’t retrace an already beaten path.
Images & Video Courtesy of lt.cjdby.net & JDUS2020