China’s New 5th Generation Fighter Jet: Shenyang FC-31

The Shenyang FC-31, also known as the J-31 or J-35 is a twin-engine, mid-size fifth-generation jet fighter developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. It is still undergoing an early development phase while the first test flight was held in 2012.

Shortly before the J-31 was officially unveiled, first photographs of the aircraft have come up on the internet, in September 2012. Unlike the Chengdu J-20, the J-31 doesn’t have canards. Additionally, the J-31 shows many similarities with the American F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II and it could be considered as a “twin engine F-35C”: the vertical stabilizers look very familiar with the ones used on F-35 and F-22. Interestingly, it features a “Divertless Supersonic Inlet”, similar to that on the F-35. Furthermore, the frontal section shares many features with the one of the F-22. The J-31 also features an internal weapons bay, in order to improve stealth and aerodynamics.

The J-31 is a mid-weight, twin rudder and twin-engine jet with the typical configuration that is commonly shared by other 5th generation fighters such as Sukhoi T-50. J-31 incorporates certain stealth characters such as forward swept intake cowls with diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) bumps and a two-piece canopy.

The J-31 appears to be a smaller and more agile aircraft than the Chengdu J-20 that resembles a twin engine F-35C. This may be because it might be used as a fifth generation carrier based fighter. Another feature that the J-31 shares with the F-35C (and most other carrier based fighter jets) is the twin forward wheels. Like the F-35, the J-31 has two internal weapons bays that can each carry two medium range missiles, along with two heavy hardpoints and one light hardpoint on each wing, but while it seems to have added an additional very light hardpoint to each wing over the capacity of the F-35, it seems to lack the capacity of the F-35 to mount a centerline gunnery or jamming pod.

The appearance of the J-31 raised concern about a potential arms race in Asia, as some of China’s neighbors might again start to consider purchasing the F-35. In 2013 Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong confirmed that the J-31 was only for export to countries unable to buy the F-35 and would not be used by the PLAN.

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