The naval stealth fighter capable of transporting China has flown

Photos starting to appear on social media apparently show, without a doubt, the carrier version of the Chinese stealth fighter Shenyang FC-31, which is expected to play a vital role in the continued and impressive development of the People’s Army Navy. liberation, or PLAN, carrying force. While we’ve already seen an apparent mock-up of the aircraft – the first carrier capable stealth fighter to be developed outside of the United States – the new images show a prototype flying for what may well be the first time.

The aircraft in question retains the same basic configuration as the ground FC-31, which was first flown as a prototype in October 2012, but which has yet to win any order from the French Air Force. ‘People’s Liberation Army or export operators, to whom it has been increasingly targeted. Dressed in a blue-green primer finish, the new jet has the same twin oblique ailerons, engines, and raised cockpit of the FC-31, but adds a catapult launch bar and wing-fold mechanism, confirming that it is intended for the carrier. operations. Other notable features are a chin-mounted sensor turret, apparently analogous to the F-35’s Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS), and what appears to be a redesigned cockpit canopy profile, with more main transparency. short.

The load-bearing version appears to be based on the improved second variant of the base FC-31 design, which introduced a number of aerodynamic refinements over the original, including smaller, swept-up vertical tails, an overall appearance less angular and cleaner surfaces. . The second FC-31, which made its maiden flight in December 2016, is powered by a pair of native WS-13E turbojets, replacing the Russian-supplied RD-93 engines used in the first.

The designation of the new carrier fighter remains unknown, but there has been speculation in the past that it could be designated J-21 or J-35.


A view of the dummy aircraft carrier bridge in Wuhan that emerged earlier this year, with an FC-31 model based on an aircraft carrier seen closest to “the island”.

Being equipped for catapult operations from the start, the new fighter looks certain to be intended to operate from the upcoming Type 003 aircraft carrier – the third for the PLAN, and the first to have a distinctly domestic design. The Type 003 design should be fitted with an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), rather than relying on the ‘ski jump’ ramps used on the previous two PLAN aircraft carriers, Liaoning and Shandong.


Artist’s impression of the FC-31 and J-20 on the aircraft carrier Liaoning.

As construction of the Type 003 aircraft carrier continues to progress rapidly, rumors of a naval version of the FC-31 capable of carrying an aircraft carrier have long been rumored. This would provide a stealth addition to the Shenyang J-15, a Chinese-made Sukhoi Flanker derivative which is in service with the PLAN today and which sets sail aboard its first two aircraft carriers. A variant of this aircraft capable of catapulting has been in testing for some time.


J-15 aircraft carrier fighters aboard China’s first aircraft carrier, Type 001 Liaoning.

“Development continues on the smaller FC-31 / J-31 for export or as a future naval fighter for PLAN’s next class of aircraft carriers,” according to an annual report on Chinese military developments that the Pentagon sent to Congress in 2020.

For its part, China has been quiet about the carrier aircraft, but in December 2019, a silhouette of the FC-31 appeared on the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) – including Shenyang, Weibo microblogging site. is a subsidiary. – described as a “future embarked hunter”. A few days later, Shenyang announced that he was developing a “new” fighter, which suggested that it was the long-awaited variant of the FC-31 aircraft carrier, although no such details. has been provided.

Reworking an existing land fighter for bridge operations is no small feat. In the past, we have described some of the challenges involved:

Typically, this can involve aerodynamic changes, optimizing the aircraft for the different angles of attack encountered during takeoff and landing, possibly including additional lift features on the wing. The flight control system will also need to be adapted, then there will be potential structural changes to strengthen the airframe for launch and recovery stresses. Invariably the landing gear will need to be reinforced and a catapult launch bar and stop hook are also required. Greater use of composite materials may be required to prevent corrosion. Finally, for storage on board ships, the wing panels would require folding mechanisms.

Obviously, the new transporter variant is at a fairly early stage in its development, but its unobservable features and overall modern features would provide the PLAN with a significant new capability to meet its power projection ambitions. However, turning the FC-31 into a carrier fighter was probably the plan from the start, and its development will greatly benefit from nearly a decade of testing and evolving its terrestrial ancestor.

The fighter’s capabilities are expected to be boosted by the KJ-600 onboard early warning aircraft, which has been noted in mock-up form since at least 2018. An actual prototype of this aircraft has been spotted during flight tests. last summer and, simultaneously with the appearance of the navalized FC-31, the KJ-600 was again seen undergoing flight tests, with new photos also emerging today.

So far, images of the FC-31 carrier variant look legitimate, but there will likely be more that will confirm its existence without a doubt. With that in mind, we’ll continue to update this story accordingly. In the meantime, now it looks like we have the first evidence that China’s plans for a stealth fighter to outfit its future aircraft carrier air wings have taken off.

In a very busy week for Chinese tactical aviation developments, it is once again clear that Beijing’s air power ambitions are rapidly taking shape. Now it could very well be that the Type 003 aircraft carrier will enter service with a tested stealth fighter aboard its deck.

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