With at least two aircraft carriers leading the charge, the Chinese PLA Navy is rapidly expanding its fleet of warships. After a year of conjecture, photos have begun to surface on social media, hinting at a carrier-capable stealth fighter jet.
If confirmed, this will be China’s second stealth aircraft after the J-20 Mighty Dragon. The latest photographs show a prototype flying for the first time and it’s the first stealthy carrier-capable fighter created outside the US, which boasts its Navy’s F-35C and F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing jets, used by the Marine Corps.
The latest Chinese aircraft has been labeled a variation of the FC-31 by some local plane spotters. A prototype of the land-based FC-31 was first flown in October 2012 but is yet to secure a purchase order from the PLA or any foreign county.
The new aircraft features the same twin canted tail fins, twin engines, and high-mounted cockpit as that of the FC-31, but it also includes a catapult launch bar and a wing-fold mechanism, indicating that it’s designed for carrier missions.
A chin-mounted sensor turret, similar to the F-35’s Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS), and what appears to be a redesigned cockpit canopy layout, with shorter primary transparency, are also seen.
And there it is.
When it rains it pours huh?
First J-20S a few days ago, now this.
Note the catapult launch bar, the wing fold line, and the chin EOIRST. pic.twitter.com/GuhuFZ1Syz
— Rick Joe (@RickJoe_PLA) October 29, 2021
This new fighter is expected to operate from the upcoming Type 003 carrier, as it is prepared for catapult operations from the start.
Rather than depending on the ski-jump ramps installed on the PLAN’s previous two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, Type 003 design is intended to be outfitted with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS).
A silhouette of the FC-31 surfaced on the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s Weibo microblogging site in December 2019, after which Shenyang revealed the development of a ‘new’ fighter, fuelling rumors that it was the long-awaited FC-31 carrier variant, however, no details were offered.
An allegedly quite recent image of the carrier EM facility at Wuhan and the mock up representing today how the Type 003's island might look like has gained a SAC FC/31/J-35 mock up! 😮
Any idea since when exactly it is there since my last image is from April/June 2019. 🤔 pic.twitter.com/QFifx59dhK
— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) June 8, 2021
The PLAN has already shown interest in acquiring a naval version of the FC-31. The KJ-600 and J-15T are all up in the air. A naval variant of the FC-31, which would also require heavier landing gear, could be ready in the near future.
These capabilities will surely aid the PLAN in accomplishing its long-term goal of establishing a blue-water navy.
The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) has already fielded the J-20, which is roughly similar to the US’ F-22 Raptor. FC-31, on one hand, was demoted in favor of J-20 since it was deemed less capable and less expensive. PLAN, on the other hand, appears to be pleased with its carried-based counterpart, and it may acquire it.
China’s New Super-Carrier
Beijing’s Type 003 is considered a significant step forward in its quest to become a worldwide superpower. China’s tremendous naval buildup has included the deployment of aircraft carriers.
Catapults will most likely be used on the next aircraft carrier to launch a larger range of planes more effectively and successfully than the ramp method used on its predecessors. Like catapults, the new carrier is equipped with EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launch system).
Satellite imagery captured in July 2021 shows that Type 003 is almost 320 meters, which is about 13 meters shorter than the American Ford Class.
According to a report released by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), China’s area-denial capabilities could improve greatly if the Type 003 aircraft carrier, which was developed domestically, is completed.
According to the study, China is ramping up its “soft kill” and “hard kill” capabilities to damage telecommunications. The former refers to the use of anti-radiation missiles and other weapons to attack and paralyze signal transceiver equipment, while the latter refers to the use of anti-radiation missiles and other weapons to attack and disable signal transceiver equipment.
It is believed that Type 003 will be equipped with 40 fighter aircraft, besides transport and airborne early warning planes as well as anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters.
Evidently, the new carrier version is still in progress, but its low-observable characteristics and modern qualities as a whole would give the PLAN a significant new capacity to match its power-projection objectives.