China’s latest fifth-generation J-31 ‘Gyrfalcon’ stealth fighter is being projected as a carrier-based warplane just like the US’ F-35 Lightning II, also a fifth-generation combat aircraft.
According to reports, the Chinese J-31 stealth fighter has been test-flown by a Chinese aviation company in order to check its competitiveness against the American F-35, which is considered the most advanced fighter on the planet.
The F-35 Lightning
The F-35, developed by American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather multirole fighter. The combat jet has been designed to perform an array of roles, including both air superiority and strike missions.
Already in service with nine countries, the F-35 is feared all around the world and is possibly the only aircraft to take on the lethal, Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
Apart from that, the fighter has an impressive armament, advanced avionics, and is endowed with electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
The J-31 Fighter
The J-31 ‘Gyrfalcon’, also known as Shenyang FC-31 or J-35, is a twin-engine, mid-size fifth-generation fighter developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. It is the second indigenous stealth fighter built after the Chengdu J-20. It took its maiden flight in 2012.
As per military experts, the J-31 has been designed to provide advanced defense capabilities in close-air support, aerial bombing, and air interdiction operations. It also boasts the ability to perform suppression of enemy air defenses.
The fighter reportedly possesses extraordinary maneuverability, stealth features, and has two internal weapons that can carry two medium-range missiles. It has superior avionics, sensors providing enhanced situational awareness, improved radar tracking & targeting capabilities, and integrated electronic-warfare systems.
Reports also suggest that the latest prototype of the J-31 might have undergone a number of modifications, which may further strengthen the combat abilities of the Chinese military.
According to sources, the J-31 is considered China’s most ambitious export-quality fighter jet as it offers a cheaper multi-role platform with strike capabilities and stealth features.
Is J-31 the Chinese Version Of F-35?
Many experts are baffled by the similarities between the Chinese jet and Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighter.
According to military expert Kris Osborn, all pictures and renderings of the new Chinese fighters have striking similarities to the F-35 fighters. However, he suggests that it does not come as a surprise, given that China is notorious for copying models from other countries.
The influence of American and Russian fighter jets was noticed in many Chinese aircraft in the past. According to analysts, several elements of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 have been found in China’s J-20 fighter as well.
Also, there have been similarities between Russia’s Sukhoi Su-33 aircraft and the Chinese J-15 aircraft. Military expert Peter Suciu says, while the Chinese might have stolen much of the data from the United States in building the J-31, it does not mean that the fighter can actually compete with the F-35 fighter.
Similar, Yet Different
While the J-31 might look similar to the F-35 fighter in physical aspects, it is unclear whether the Chinese fighter has the same stealth capabilities as that of the F-35.
The J-31 possesses a stealth aerodynamic design and it is likely to have stealth coating as well, however, the factors which may make it different from the F-35 are the presence of radar-absorbent coating materials and the use of internal weapons bays.
According to Global Security, Beijing lacks the extensive electronic support and aerial refueling capabilities that are currently possessed by American stealth fighters like the F-35 and the F-22 Raptor.
At this point, there is also a lack of clarity whether the J-31 will be inducted as a carrier-based naval fighter. Also, even if the fighter does possess carrier-capability, it is not known whether it would be able to operate from the PLA Navy’s two carriers with ski-jump flight decks.
Given these scenarios, some experts believe there is a higher chance of the J-31 fighter competing against fourth-generation American fighters, rather than the fifth-generation stealth pair of F-35 and F-22 Raptor.