For the first time, the state conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) presents its stealth fighter, the J-31 or FC-31 in its export version. The Chinese military industry wants to show the world that it is capable of developing a stealth aircraft of the same level as the American Lockheed-Martin’s F-35.
Even if it is only a model, the presence for the first time in an air show outside China of the twin-engine FC-31, developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of AVIC, caused a sensation at the Dubai Air Show, which opened its doors on November 8. A prototype of this combat aircraft made its first flight in 2012 and was presented in public in November 2017 at the Zhuhai Air Show in southern China. The presence in Dubai of Lin Peng, the FC-31 project manager at AVIC was symbolic because the Chinese want to offer this versatile and furtive hunter to foreign customers. To compete with the Lockheed-Martin F-35 in this particular market segment. Pakistan is reported to have expressed interest in some 30 aircraft.
The technical characteristics presented by the FC-31 position the apparatus in the category of the planes with low radar signature: angular and flat forms of the fuselage, armaments integrated in two holds (2 tons available), air inlets which disperse and cool the jet of gas to reduce the thermal signature, special coating on the fuselage to absorb the radar waves. The Chinese multi-purpose fighter also offers great similarities in its general appearance with the F-35. So much so that strong suspicions of technological looting were advanced by the Americans when the AVIC hunter appeared in 2016.
According to AVIC, the structure of the FC-31 can support between +9g and -3g, to carry four missiles of average range in its two holds, for a useful range of action with the combat of approximately 1 200 to 1 250 km. It does, however, have six external take-away points, both for weapons and spare fuel drums. We know little about the radar and the means of detection of the FC-31, except that it is equipped with a multi-spectrum radar and a new sensor located under the nose of the plane.
On the engine side, Lin Peng revealed that the FC-31 is now equipped with two Chinese engines, the Guizhou WS-13A 100 kilo-newtons thrust engine (with afterburner), offering the aircraft a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 (about 2,200 km/h). The prototype which was flying until now was equipped with Russian Klimov RD-93 engines of 84 kilo-newtons.
According to AVIC, the first flight of a production model should intervene in 2019, while the plane would obtain its initial operational capacity around 2022, for an entry in operational service in 2024. But according to many experts, this timetable is considered very optimistic. Chinese industry does not yet fully master complex stealth technologies. The quality of the coating applied to the fuselage, in particular, is essential to guarantee a low radar signature. Indeed, during the November 2017 introductory flights, international observers publicly expressed doubts about the aircraft’s handling.