Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Can China’s ‘Very Own’ F-22 Raptor & F-35 Stealth Fighter Jet Present Any Challenge To The Original US Warplanes?

While the J-20 jet is seen as China’s answer to the US F-35 stealth fighter — the country has also developed a fifth-generation carrier-launched jet, FC-31. The question is – can the J-20 and FC-31 match F-35 and F-22 Raptor?

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The F-35 is the stealthy, supersonic fighter aircraft used by the US Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the length of the aircraft is 15.7mwith a wingspan of 13.1 m. The aircraft can fly at a speed of Mach 1.6 and can carry a load of 8,160 kg.

The stealth fighter jet is available in three variants – F-35A is a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant; F-35B is for short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) and the carrier variant (CV) F-35C.

Over the years, China has faced allegations of copying, stealing, and replicating designs of weapon systems from its adversaries.

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For instance, the design of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was allegedly stolen by a Chinese national, Su Bin. Popular Mechanics reported that Su Bin was also found guilty of compromising the designs of the American F-22 Raptor and was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

The FC-31

Initially called J-31, the FC-31 has a larger operational range and payload capacity in comparison with the F-35. American experts have noted that the Chinese J-20 and FC-31 “mirror” the American F-22 and F-35, and demanded strict actions against China.

US Senator Joe Manchin had stated in 2015, “We know the J-20 is pretty much mirroring our F-22. We know that their J-31 is pretty much mirroring our F-35. We know this and the cost to the American taxpayers.. why wouldn’t we take hard actions against them?”.

A TV grab of an FC-31 fighter, which was put on display at the SAC Aviation Expo Park in China’s Liaoning Province.

FC-31 is manufactured by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, an alliance member of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China. It is reportedly a fifth-generation, multi-role, twin-engine fighter aircraft. The aircraft is 16.9 m long, and has a wingspan of 11.5m.

The jet can fly at a speed of 2,200 kmph with a service ceiling of around 20,000m.

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According to The National Interest, the ability of detecting, tracking and destroying a hostile aircraft is considered a vital capability of a stealth fighter. There are significant differences between the FC-31 and the F-35 in terms of sensors, artificial intelligence-enabled computing and the effective range of the aircraft.

The report says that “whichever aircraft is able to see, detect and destroy the other first with long-range, high-fidelity sensors and longer-range, precision-guided weapons is likely to prevail”.

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Experts believe that the F-35 is adept at these functions, that is detecting, tracking and neutralizing hostile aircraft at longer ranges. The opinion is divided on whether the FC-31 will be able to match the American stealth fighter’s “vertical take-off- and-landing” or “its computing sensing and weapons capabilities”.

The lack of a vertical take-off ability of the FC-31 may be a major impediment to the success of the Chinese fighter jet, especially when it is locked in a conflict with Taiwan, which has support from the US.

Image
An F-35B launching from an aircraft carrier. (via Twitter)

Experts noted that in the event of an amphibious assault ship-launched F-35B attack, the only way for the Chinese to counter such an attack would be by deploying one of its aircraft carriers.

This is where the lack of the vertical take-off limit of the FC-31 will impede its operational use. However, the development of the stealth jets like the FC-31 definitely provides China a greater power projection at the regional and global levels.

A Chinese media report quoted a PLA Air Force test pilot as saying that the stealth aerodynamic design, the engine, and coating designs of the FC-31 are on par with its western competitors.

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The pilot, Xu Yongling, further said that the jet has an adequate stealth capability and substantial payload, which may provide the FC-31 an edge over the American F-35.

The report also addressed the allegations of similar designs of the Chinese and American stealth fighter jets. It was mentioned that the two aircraft — FC-31 and F-35 — have the same DSI inlet (non-boundary layer separated lane supersonic inlet) design.

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A major difference between the two, the report noted, was that the F-35 has one engine, while the FC-31 is a twin-engine aircraft.

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