It was another big reveal in a long history of them. Six months after the Chinese air force let the first photos of its new stealth fighter leak online, Beijing’s military has “accidentally” showed off another secretive weapon system: a small drone, apparently used to scout ahead of China’s fast-growing fleet of warships.
Details of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle — gleaned entirely from a snapshot (.pdf) taken by a Japanese navy patrol plane last week — are sketchy, at best. But the new UAV certainly represents a step forward in China’s development of American-style spy drones.
The drone (pictured above) appears to be small, possibly no more than a dozen feet in length. Since it was spotted far from land in the company of Chinese warships, it’s likely that the flying robot is launched from the helicopter flight deck of a frigate or destroyer — though the exact methods of launch and recovery remain unclear. (U.S. naval drones use catapults or take off vertically.) The UAV’s apparent small size implies a limited range and basic sensors, particularly given China’s problems building robots and advanced military electronics.