Warplanes: China Exports The Stealthy FC-31

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November 18, 2014: China is offering its 18 ton J-31 stealth fighter to export customers as the FC-31. Pakistan has expressed some interest, but then Pakistan is the largest export customer for Chinese weapons. Pakistan might want to wait a bit because it is unclear how ready the J-31 is for active service. Since 2012 China has been testing the J-31 “Falcon Eagle” (from an inscription on the tail). While it looks like the American F-22, it’s also smaller than China’s other stealth fighter (the 35 ton J-20, which has been around longer). The J-31 was built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (which makes the J-11, the illegal Chinese copy of the Russian Su-27). The J-31 has some characteristics of the F-35 as well and appears to be something of an “F-35” to the earlier J-20s effort to match the American F-22. The J-31 flew for the first time in October 2012 and at that point there were at least two prototypes. The designer has talked of the J-31 being able to operate off an aircraft carrier (like the U.S. F-35 and the Chinese J-15, a J-11 variant).

One advantage the J-31 is that it has two engines, compared to one for the 31 ton F-35. In theory this means the J-31 could carry more weapons, but this is less crucial with all the guided weapons available. Moreover the J-31 is seen using Chinese engines, which are less powerful and reliable, even when two are used, compared to the single engine in the F-35C.

The J-31 is further evidence that China is determined to develop its own high tech military gear. While China is eager to develop advanced military technology locally, it recognizes that this takes time and more effort than nations new to this expect. Thus, China is trying to avoid the mistakes Russia made in this area. That means having competing designs and developing necessary supporting industries as part of that. All this takes a lot of time and involves lots of little (and some major) failures. The Chinese are doing it right and are willing to wait until they get military tech that is truly world class.

 

 


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