The Chinese name for Shenyang J-31 (FC-31) is “Gyrfalcon” manufactured by SAC, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China
China has commissioned a second aircraft carrier, named Shandong, while building the third. The question is what is the future of the Chinese aircraft carrier fleet as well as the carrier fighter squadrons? There has been much speculation that China will replace its J-15 aircraft fighters with J-31 fighters, an aircraft of similar size to the US F-35, quite suitable for a carrier-based aircraft role.
After being officially introduced for the first time at the Zhuhai Airshow in 2014, China’s fifth-generation J-31 fighter jet attracted a lot of attention. At that time J-31 only performed an “almost vertical” takeoff in Zhuhai before turning around and circling a few times in the sky. It is thought to be a fighter line aimed at foreign customers, while J-20 only serves the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. China’s approach is similar to that of the United States, when it banned the export of F-22, while the F-35 was to supply to traditional partners.
The Chinese name for this fighter is “Gyrfalcon” manufactured by SAC, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China. China’s air defense forces have stated that: “We are creating the best weapons for peacekeepers”. The SAC predicts that its aircraft will gradually replace J-10 single-engine fighters and sell to other countries, which cannot afford to buy F-35s from the United States.
Although there are suggestions that the J-31 is the Chinese F-35 version, most commenters believe that it is actually a smaller variant of the F-22, using a twin-engine construction with similarities in the shape of the wings and the nose. The specifications of these two aircraft are quite similar. J-31 has a length of 16.9 m, a wingspan of 11.5 m, a height of 4.8 m. The empty weight and maximum takeoff weight of J-31 are 15 and 25 tons respectively, while the F-35 is 14.5 and 27.2 tons.
The J-31’s aerodynamic shape is considered to be quite good for radar scattering. A single-seat cockpit is placed behind the pointed nose, which has single canopy, hinged at the back, provides good visibility for the pilot. The avionics system has not been revealed, only knowing that it will be integrated with the most advanced active electronically scanned array radar. The level of China’s electronics industry has recently grown.
The intakes are trapezoidal as in the F-22, serving a pair of jet engines. The engine exhaust is arranged conventionaly at the rear. The main wings are swept back slightly along their leading edges with the usual control surfaces. A pair of vertical tail fins, mounted on the outside of each engine, is similar to the F-22. The wheels consist of two main single landing legs and two-wheels nose leg. Many commentators generally describe J-31 as “two-engined 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. The J-31 can carry 8,000 kg of payload, with four munitions totaling 2,000 kg internally, and 6,000 kg carried on external hardpoints. Primary armaments include the PL-10 short-range missile and PL-12 medium-range air-to-air missile.
According to Vladimir Barkovsky of Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG, the engines on the prototype aircraft is RD-93. Because this is the engine of the 4th generation fighter, of course the RD-93 is not able to hide the heat signal. In addition, it is worth mentioning that the RD-93 is a modified version of the RD-33 fitted to the MiG-29 series, which is famous for its poor performance, often discharges black smoke and break-down suddenly during operation. 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 of thrust for use on the J-31. The maximum speed of J-31 is approximately 2,200 km/h, combat radius reaches 1,200 km.
Similar to the J-20, the capabilities of the J-31 is limited because China has not mastered the technology of manufacturing coatings and stealth materials. The design of the J-31 is considered to be a combination of F-22 and F-35, making the Chinese fighter lighter and more flexible than the original US version.
Some experts say China’s J-31 is not equipped with a Multifunction Advanced Data Link system like the US F-35 fighter. This system turns the F-35 into a data center, providing offensive ability beyond the horizon.