Shenyang J-31

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Shenyang J-31
Shenyang J-31 (F60) at the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show.jpg
J-31 prototype at 2014 China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition
Role Stealth multirole fighter
National origin People's Republic of China
Manufacturer Shenyang Aircraft Corporation
First flight 31 October 2012[1]
Status Flight testing
Number built 2 prototype [2]

The Shenyang J-31,[3][4] (or "FC-31 4th Generation Multi-Purpose Medium Fighter")[5] also known as "Gyrfalcon" (鹘鹰), or "Falcon Hawk" by some military enthusiasts,[6][7] is a twin-engine, mid-size jet fighter currently under development by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. The fighter has also been referred to as F-60 or J-21 Snowy Owl (雪鸮) in some media reports.[8][3][9]

Development[edit]

A photo of a model labeled F-60 was posted on the Internet in September 2011.[10] In June 2012, photos and camera video clips started to emerge on internet about a heavily overwrapped possible F-60 prototype being road-transferred on a highway, earning the nickname "the zongzi plane" (粽子机) among Chinese netizens, though some suspect it of merely being a L-15 trainer aircraft.[11] Pictures of a possibly fully assembled aircraft parking on an airfield emerged on September 15–16, 2012.[12][13] The F-60 is reported to be the export version, where the J-31 would be the domestic Chinese version of the same fighter.[14] Chinese aviation expert Xu Yongling has called the J-31 an export-oriented low-end latest generation warplane.[15]

It is unknown if the J-31 is meant to be a competitor to the J-20 stealth fighter or a complement to it. It is also unknown if it will be a land-based fighter for the People's Liberation Army Air Force, or a carrier-based fighter for the People's Liberation Army Naval Air Force on the Liaoning Aircraft Carrier[7] and future Chinese carriers. The J-31's chief designer, Sun Cong, has said that he hoped that the aircraft would follow his J-15 onto China's aircraft carriers.[16][17] However, industry sources say development of the J-31 was provided entirely by the PLAAF with no input from the PLAN. This would mean the Air Force plans to operate two stealth fighters for different missions, like the U.S. Air Force with the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II; the heavier J-20 would primarily be a high-altitude dogfighter, while the J-31 would perform a multitude of medium and low-altitude missions (in addition to air-to-air) including close air support, air interdiction, aerial bombardment, and suppression of enemy air defenses.[18]

On 30 December 2013, Sina Corp reported that the J-31 would be redesigned to have ground attack capabilities. The J-31 acting as a stealthy tactical bomber fills a gap in Chinese close air support between the Xian JH-7 and the expensive Xian H-6 strategic bomber. The PLAAF operates the Sukhoi Su-30MK2 for the mission, but that is vulnerable to radar detection. By making the J-31 less dedicated to the fighter role, its range, payload, and stealth can be increased.[19]

During the 2014 Zhuhai Airshow, a Chinese military expert said that the J-31 will be both used by the PLA and exported to foreign buyers. Internationally, it is designated the FC-31 and intended to be a rival to the American F-35 and Russian Sukhoi Su-35; export potential will be more greatly explored once a sufficiently powerful and reliable engine is designed. It was suggested that the PLA Air Force would use the J-31 as a fighter while the larger J-20 would instead be used as a tactical bomber, and the PLA-Navy would use it as a carrier-borne fighter to replace the J-15.[20]

According to Janes, Pakistan is planning to purchase 30 to 40 planes.[21]

Strategic implications[edit]

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.[22][23][24][25]

A 1/4 scale model of the J-31 was shown at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition 2012, hinting at a desire to offer the aircraft for export, as an alternative for those countries that cannot purchase the F-35.[26][27] AVIC confirmed at the exhibition that the aircraft was intended for export.[28][29] 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.[30] Stephen Biddle of the Council for Foreign Relations has speculated that the aircraft design was intended for domestic use, but found to be under performing and hence relegated to the export market.[31] AVIC president Lin Zuoming confirmed that his company intends to offer the J-31 for export to countries who are not allowed to purchase the F-35,[32] with a long term goal of offering a competitive fighter.[33]

U.S. military and industry officials believe that once the J-31 enters service, it will automatically be a match for existing fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon, and F/A-18 Super Hornet. They suggest that the capability of the J-31 against the newest fighters, such as the American F-22 and F-35, would depend on factors such as numbers of platforms, quality of pilots, and capabilities of radars and other sensors.[34]

While the J-31 has been touted as a rival to the American F-35 in the export market, there may not be many countries interested or able to actually buy the advanced Chinese aircraft. The U.S. has been successful in securing international orders for the F-35 from allied European and Asian countries based on their ability to afford it and to ensure continued effective coordination with the U.S. in multilateral combat situations. China however has no allies with such close strategic ties or economic strength; although Pakistan has showed an interest, most other potential countries either cannot afford aircraft as advanced, and so presumably expensive, are committed to other suppliers, have contentious relationships with China, or have no need for fifth-generation fighters. Unlike the U.S., China does not have close enough military relationships with another country to pitch a sale on grounds of interoperability with the Chinese military. The F-35's capabilities are enhanced by system add-ons such as sensor and communications systems that work together with other components to give a more accurate vision of the battlespace. There have been no signs of the J-31 having such features, which couldn't be exported with the airframe if the were eventually developed if orders are desired in the near future.[35]

Flight testing[edit]

The prototype conducted a high-speed taxiing test and briefly became airborne. On 31 October 2012, prototype No. 31001 conducted the model's maiden flight.[1][8][36][37][38] It was accompanied by two J-11 fighters in a ten-minute test flight with its landing gear lowered.

With the maiden test flight of the prototype No.31001 on October 31, 2012, China became the second nation after the 1991 Advanced Tactical Fighter fly off, to have two stealth fighter designs in field-testing at the same time.[36][37] The aircraft has continued a limited test program, with footage emerging of further flights which took place in February 2013.[39]

In early April 2014, new pictures of J-31 started to emerge on the internet, one showing it flying with a new engine which looks very similar to the WS-13 currently powering the JF-17 thunder fighter for PAF.[40]

Early November 2014, J-31 fighter jet arrived in Zhu Hai, China, and started preparation for flight display. It is believed to be publicly unveiled in Zhu Hai Airshow 2014, and to perform flight demonstration.

The J-31 was publicly unveiled on November 12, 2014.[41][42] During the airshow, the J-31/FC-31 revealed aerodynamic inefficiencies during flight maneuvers. The aircraft bled a lot of energy and the pilot had a hard time keeping the nose up during turns and other maneuvers. The afterburners also had to be engaged often to maintain a proper energy utilization curve. Flights were done when the jet was "clean," so results would be worse when fitted with a combat loadout. However, a large-scale model of the FC-31 on display did show some detail changes of configuration compared to the flying prototype.[43]

Design[edit]

J-31 in-flight

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.[44] 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.[45][46][47] Another feature that the J-31 shares with the F-35C (and most other carrier based fighter jets) is the twin forward wheels.[48] Bill Sweetman has cited several improvements to the F-35C design files the Chinese may have acquired in the J-31.[49] 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 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.[50]

Vladimir Barkovsky of Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG (formerly known as the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau) has stated that, despite some design flaws, the J-31 "looks like a good machine." Although it contains features already in use on the U.S. fifth generation fighter designs, it is "not a copy but a well done indigenous design." Barkovsky has confirmed that the engines on the prototype aircraft are RD-93s.[12][51] However, China already has an engine similar to the RD-93, the Guizhou WS-13 currently installed on the JF-17 which has the same thrust and size of the Russian RD-93. China is working on an improved variant named WS-13A with 100KN of thrust for use on the J-31. Lin Zuoming, chairman of China's AVIC, has said that he hopes to put domestic engines on the fighter.[52]

As the Chinese build up confidence in newer, more reliable and powerful domestic engines, they may be able to power the J-31 sooner than the larger J-20 and in greater numbers.[53]

USAF Lieutenant General Charles Davis has said that while the Chinese fifth generation fighter may have used stolen information from the F-35 program, it was unlikely to measure up to the American aircraft.[54]

Unlike the F-35's "baked in" fiber-mat stealth, the J-31 uses stealth coatings.[55]

The J-31 has a flatter fuselage than the F-35; which suggests a more pronounced air superiority focus for the J-31, since a flatter fuselage results in a smaller weapons bay but improves fuel efficiency and speed by decreasing drag.[56]

Differences between prototype and production J-31[edit]

Scale models displayed at airshows reveal several planned differences from the 31001 flying prototype, including a stealthier cockpit, a next-generation helmet mounted sight, holographic cockpit displays, EOTS, and more powerful engines.[57]

PLA Navy Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong has said it will take China years to reverse engineer the Russian jet engines and that the J-31 is too heavy.[58]

Specifications (estimated)[edit]

Because the aircraft is in development, these specifications — based on available imagery — are approximate and preliminary.

Data from Chris Pocock[59] Aviation Week,[60] and PopSci.[57]

General characteristics

  • Crew: one (pilot)
  • Length: 16.9 m (55 ft 5 in)
  • Wingspan: 11.5 m (37 ft 9 in)
  • Height: 4.8 m (15 ft 9 in)
  • Wing area: 40 m2 (430 sq ft)
  • Gross weight: 17,600 kg (38,801 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × RD-93 afterburning Turbofans, 84 kN (19,000 lbf) thrust each
  • Powerplant: 2 × WS-13A afterburning Turbofans, 100 kN (22,000 lbf) thrust each
  • Maximum speed: Mach 1.8
  • Combat range: 1,250 km (777 mi; 675 nmi)
  • Ferry range: 4,000 km (2,485 mi; 2,160 nmi)
  • Thrust/weight: ~1

Armament

4x PL-12 internally in stealth configuration. (planned)[61]

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists

References[edit]

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