A mid-sized fifth-generation fighter jet, this vehicle is getting a massive amount of hype for various reasons. This article will give you all details you need to know about the Shenyang FC-31 fighter jet, China’s cost-effective stealth combat aircraft.
1. AIRCRAFT ORIGIN
This China-made vehicle’s purpose is to be a cost-efficient fifth-generation fighter aircraft for countries that cannot afford the United State’s expensive F-35 fighter jet. A reasonably new combat plane, the Shenyang FC-35’s first test flight was on October 31, 2012. This plane resulted from a collaboration between the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. Since then, it has been under development for advanced defense capabilities during different types of military operations.
In 2014, the aircraft was publicly unveiled two years after its maiden flight during the Zhuhai Airshow. The particular airshow made the Shenyang FC-31 gain a lot of attention. An article from military-wiki.com reported that the FC-31 performed an “almost vertical” takeoff in Zhuhai. After its demo, reporters made many speculations regarding the FC-31’s capabilities and how it would compare to other operational fifth-generation fighter planes in the world.
2. AIRCRAFT SPECIFICATIONS
The Shenyang FC-31 is also called the J-31 and has the nickname “Gyrfalcon,” named after the largest falcon species. The FC-31 body is just like any other aircraft standing at 4.8 meters tall, 16.9 meters long, and the wingspan is 11.5 meters. The aircraft’s cockpit features a modern design that enhances the pilot’s visibility during flight. The included Advanced Avionics Concept will also give an advantage to the pilot when in operation. These features allow the pilot to gather information, such as navigational route, moving map, and weather radar.
The Shenyang’s speed of Mach 1.8, which is slightly slower than other fighter jets, results from its Russian-made twin turbofan engines. For its offensive capabilities, the FC-31 has an armament containing a weight capacity of up to 8000 kilograms. Its weapon load contains, but is not limited to, 12 medium-range air-to-air missiles and eight supersonic air-to-ground missiles. Thus, it makes this aircraft a force to be reckoned with.
3. AIRCRAFT COMPARISON
This time, let’s compare it to its American counterpart, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. In an article written by Masij Asthana for The Eurasian Times, Masij stated that China would use its latest fifth-generation FC-31 ‘Gyrfalcon’ stealth fighter as a carrier-based warplane, just like the US F-35 Lightning II, which is also a fifth-generation combat aircraft.
Although military experts are hesitant to label Shenyang as the cheap alternative to the F-35, the Chinese Air Force is persistent with the FC-31’s test flights to check its competitiveness against the American F-35. According to Global Security, Beijing falls short of the extensive electronic support and aerial refueling capabilities, which the American stealth fighters like the F-35 and the F-22 Raptor have.
Another difference between the two aircraft is their stealth capabilities. While both aircraft possess stealth aerodynamic design and stealth coating, the FC-31’s distinction in this area integrates radar-absorbing coating materials. Moreover, experts say that the J-31 has a better chance of beating out American fourth-generation fighters than the F-35 Lightning II.
According to military expert Kris Osborn, the appearance of the Shenyang FC-31 have some similarities to the F-35 fighters. However, he said that it doesn’t come as a surprise, given that China is notorious for copying models from other countries, which brings us to our next point.
4. AIRCRAFT CONTROVERSIES
Just like any other Chinese fighter plane, the Shenyang FC-31 was not safe from issues and controversies. According to a 2019 South China Morning Post article, US National Security Adviser John Bolton accused China of stealing US technology to make a stealth fighter. Chinese hackers allegedly stole the technology from the US-made F-35 in April 2009 when they entered the American defense equipment maker networks, a charge Beijing has denied.
Even with these allegations embedded in this aircraft’s history, the Shenyang FC-31 remains one of the few stealth combat fighters that enemy forces must be aware of. According to popularmechanics.com, reports indicate that China will be showcasing a new fighter jet next year. However, it will likely be a familiar sight to Chinese military watchers. Growing indicators point to a fighter jet, probably a revamped, combat-ready version of the FC-31 fighter plane, making an appearance in 2021.
Hence, the Shenyang FC-31 comes with many potentials on what it can do. China is doing the global military market a favor by opening up this aircraft for export so other countries can operate this fifth-generation stealth fighter jet.
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