China plans to deploy an advanced stealth drone for its first home-grown aircraft carrier , which has entered final preparations before its expected commissioning later this year, according to military sources. The Sharp Sword was one of two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) seen in photos of a weekend rehearsal in Beijing for the upcoming National Day military parade on October 1. The insider said the new aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, would be equipped with a reconnaissance version of the Sharp Sword drone when it entered service. A second military source, from the Chinese navy, also confirmed that the stealth drone would be deployed for the aircraft carrier and said it was significant since it would help to close the technology gap with the US Navy. “The use of drones for aircraft carriers and warships is the trend [for navies] around the world,” the Chinese navy source said. “China is no exception.” But the new Sharp Sword is less versatile than Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray drone, which has the capacity for in-flight refuelling. “The Sharp Sword does not have this capability so it will focus on reconnaissance missions for [China’s] missile systems,” said the military insider, who requested anonymity since Beijing had yet to announce the deployment. Although in-flight refuelling was not an option, the Sharp Sword could be used for reconnaissance in areas with dense air defence networks, as well as for tailing foreign warships, according to the insider. The Chinese drone uses similar technology to other UAVs such as the American X-47B, Britain’s Taranis and the Neuron from France. “China has learned the technology from the US and France. In order to reduce its weight, the reconnaissance version of the Sharp Sword would not carry weapons despite having two internal bomb bays because it needs to fit the ski-jump take-off ramp on the Type 001A,” the insider added. “The Sharp Sword reconnaissance drone’s key mission will be gathering intelligence for ship-borne missile systems, enabling the missiles to accurately hit targets that are 300km to 400km away.” The latest photos of the aircraft carrier, posted by military enthusiasts on social media and websites, show that its hull has been painted black below the waterline – it was previously red – in another sign that it could be ready to enter service soon. Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said it was standard for the red paint to be used to make vessels rustproof ahead of sea trials. “When a warship is near to entering service, that red paint then needs to be covered with a black coating, which also acts as sound insulation to help prevent detection by hostile submarines, as well as to prevent barnacles,” Li said. Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping also expected the Type 001A to enter service soon, saying scaffolding seen around its flight control tower in the recent photos suggested it was undergoing basic exterior work after its seventh sea trial last month. Another sea trial for China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier ‘suggests technical problems’ However, both the military insider and the naval source said it was not clear if the aircraft carrier would be ready for National Day celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. “There is no pressure [for it to be ready by October 1] because the aircraft carrier is a complicated project – the Type 001A is the first one China has built itself,” the military insider said. The naval source said the warship was more likely to be ready by the end of the year. “It will still be significant if the aircraft carrier can be commissioned by December 31 – it would still be close to the 70th anniversary,” he said.