Shenyang FC-31

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FC-31
Shenyang J-31 (F60) at the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show.jpg
FC-31 prototype at 2014 China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition
Role Stealth multirole fighter
National origin China
Manufacturer Shenyang Aircraft Corporation
Designer Shenyang Aircraft Corporation
First flight 31 October 2012[1]
Introduction 2019 (estimated)
Status Flight testing
Number built 2 prototypes[2][3][4]
Unit cost
$70 million[5]

The Shenyang FC-31[6][7], also known as the J-31,[8] is a twin-engine, mid-size fifth-generation jet fighter currently under development by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. The official nickname published by SAC is "Gyrfalcon" (Chinese: 鹘鹰[9]), although it has also been referred to as the "F-60" or "J-21 Snowy Owl" (Simplified Chinese: 雪鸮) in some media reports,[10][11][3][10][12] or "Falcon Hawk" by some military enthusiasts.[13][14] J-xx nomenclatures in the Chinese military are reserved for programs launched and financed by the People's Liberation Army, while this plane was developed independently by a state-owned company.[15]

Development[edit]

A photo of a model labeled F-60 was posted on the Internet in September 2011.[16] In June 2012, photos and phone camera video clips started to emerge on internet regarding a heavily overwrapped fighter plane fuselage (widely suspected to be the F-60 prototype) being road-transferred on a highway, earning the plane the nickname "the zongzi plane" (粽子机) among Chinese netizens, though some suspect it of merely being an L-15 trainer aircraft.[17] Pictures of a possibly fully assembled aircraft parking on an airfield emerged on 15 or 16 September 2012.[18][19] The F-60 is reported to be the export version, where the J-31 would be the domestic Chinese version of the same fighter.[20] Chinese aviation expert Xu Yongling has called the J-31 an export-oriented low-end latest generation warplane.[21]

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][3][22][23][24] 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 30 October 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.[22][23] The aircraft has continued a limited test program, with footage emerging of further flights which took place in February 2013.[25]

Public unveiling[edit]

A ​14-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]

The J-31 airframe was publicly unveiled on November 12, 2014 at Zhuhai Airshow.[28][29] In TV broadcast of the unveiling, AVIC chairman Lin Zuoming claimed that funding for the aircraft came entirely from the company, with no input from military.[30]

As typical in flight displays of fighter jets,[citation needed] afterburners were engaged throughout the maneuvers. Nevertheless, Reuben Johnson of ainonline.com claimed it to be evidence of aerodynamic inefficiencies, concluding that the aircraft "bleeds a lot of energy and the pilot had a hard time keeping the nose up."[31] 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.[31]

At the 2015 Dubai Airshow, AVIC released more details regarding the aircraft's capabilities. The company revealed it is still looking for a partner in the aircraft project, and is actively marketing the aircraft to People's Liberation Army Air Force. AVIC's plan is to have a production model first flight by 2019.[32][33]

Future[edit]

Due to mixed reports from China, it is unknown as to whether the J-31 will be inducted as a carrier-based naval fighter, or only intended for foreign customers.[14][34] In one interview with China's state media, the J-31's chief designer Sun Cong expressed his hope that the aircraft would follow his J-15 onto China's aircraft carriers.[35][36] However, officials from AVIC only said that the aircraft was intended for export as a competitor to the F-35.[37][38][39][40]

In 2015, Jiangsu A-Star Aviation Industries Company marketed its EOTS-86 infra-red search and track as a possible addition to the J-31.[41]

An improved prototype, with modifications to the vertical stabilizers, wings, and airframe, an electro-optical targeting system, a larger payload, improvements in stealth, and upgraded electronics, made its maiden flight in December 2016.[4][42]

In November 2018, an Aviation Week article stated that the FC-31 program has received government funding and is being sought after by both the PLANAF and PLAAF, according to official sources.[43]

Design[edit]

J-31 in-flight

J-31 incorporates certain stealth characteristics such as forward-swept intake ramps with diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) bumps and a two-piece canopy.

Airframe[edit]

The J-31 is smaller than the Chengdu J-20. The use of twin-wheel nose landing gear led to speculations that the J-31 may have been intended to be a carrier based fighter.[44][45][46] Bill Sweetman has cited several improvements to the F-35C design files the Chinese may have acquired in the J-31.[47] 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.[48]

Officials from AVIC claimed that additive manufacturing was extensively used on the aircraft, resulting in 50% reduction in components compared to similar aircraft. However, the resulting airframe cannot be disassembled, and the static test frame had to be transported in whole as a consequence.[30]

Engines[edit]

According to Vladimir Barkovsky of Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG (formerly known as the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau), the engines on the prototype aircraft are RD-93s.[18][49] 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-13E with 100 kN (22,000 lbf) 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.[50] 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.[51]

Payload[edit]

The J-31 can carry 8,000 kg (18,000 lb) of payload, with four munitions totaling 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) internally, and 6,000 kg (13,000 lb) carried on six external hardpoints; primary armaments include the PL-10 short-range missile and PL-12 medium-range air-to-air missile. It has a combat radius of 648 nmi (746 mi; 1,200 km) and a maximum take-off weight of 25,000 kg (55,000 lb).[32][33]

Stealth[edit]

The J-31 is speculated to use stealth coatings instead of "baked in" fiber-mat stealth.[52] Officials from AVIC claim the aircraft to be stealthy against L-band and Ku-band radars, and would be low-observable against a number of multi-spectrum sensors.[32] The engine nozzles are apparently being redesigned to reduce radar and infrared signatures.[53]

Foreign reactions[edit]

The appearance of the J-31 raised concern about a potential arms race in Asia, as some of China's neighbors are pursuing the development of their own fifth-generation aircraft (i.e. India with their HAL AMCA, Japan with the Mitsubishi X-2, and South Korea with the KAI KF-X) or are considering purchasing the F-35 or Su-57.[54][55][56][57]

U.S. military and industry officials believe that once the J-31 enters service, it will likely be more than a match for existing fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F/A-18E/F 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.[58]

Vladimir Barkovsky of Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG 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."[18]

Alleged espionage[edit]

In April 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that computer spies, allegedly Chinese, had penetrated the database of the Joint Strike Fighter program and acquired terabytes of secret information.[59] The state-run AVIC later incorporated the stolen knowledge into the J-31.[60][61][62]

Specifications (estimated)[edit]

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

Data from Aviation Week[63] unless otherwise attributed

General characteristics

  • Crew: one (pilot)
  • Length: 16.9 m (55 ft 5 in) [64]
  • Wingspan: 11.5 m (37 ft 9 in)
  • Height: 4.8 m (15 ft 9 in)
  • Wing area: 40 m2 (430 sq ft) [65]
  • Max takeoff weight: 28,000 kg (61,729 lb) [66]
  • Powerplant: 2 × RD-93 afterburning turbofans, 85 kN (19,000 lbf) thrust each
  • Powerplant: 2 × WS-13 afterburning turbofans (projected upgrade)
  • Maximum speed: 2,200 km/h (1,400 mph, 1,200 kn)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 1.8
  • Combat range: 1,250 km (780 mi, 670 nmi) on internal fuel, or 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) with external tanks

Armament

Avionics

  • KLJ-7A[66] AESA radar
  • Distributed aperture system (DAS) optical early-warning system[66]
  • Electro-optical targeting system (EOTS)[66]

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Media related to Shenyang FC-31 at Wikimedia Commons