China is working on a second prototype of its FC31 (aka J31) fighter. It is a smaller jet than the China’s J20. China should have 12 of the J20s built by 2017. The FC31 could begin deployment around 2022.
New scaled models displayed at the Zhuhai Airshow revealed several planned differences from the first 31001 flying prototype. The differences include a stealthier cockpit, a next-generation helmet mounted sight, holographic cockpit displays, EOTS, aerodynamic revisions and more powerful engines.
The 01 prototype powered by two indigenous WS-13E turbofan engines flew for the first time on July 1, 2016.
Recently revealed details concerning China’s Shenyang FC-31 fighter suggest that the aircraft not only looks like the Pentagon’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), but it also offers comparable aerodynamic performance. But the real question is how far along Beijing has come in the development of subsystems like radars and engines. Moreover, there is the question of how well Chinese industry can integrate all of those disparate technologies into an operational aircraft.
The Chinese FC31 jet was based on stolen JSF (F35) technology—and could eventually be more or less a match for the American jet. “I think they’ll eventually be on par with our fifth-gen jets—as they should be, because industrial espionage is alive and well,” a senior U.S. military aviator said.
The F-22 might be able to generate a kill ratio of thirty-to-one today against the Chinese J-11 Flanker, but the U.S. Air Force has only 120 combat coded Raptors. The Raptor might only generate a three-to-one kill ratio against the J-31 or J-20, which means attrition will take a serious toll on U.S. forces.
The J-31 is likely to fall short is on avionics—the aircraft’s radar, infrared search and track, data-links and especially sensor fusion. This has been hard for the USA as well.
Stealth aircraft are built to very tight tolerances—one ten-thousandth of an inch was the standard for the F-22 and the F-35 has tighter requirements still. The Chinese have never demonstrated the ability to build to those kinds of tolerances.
Even if the J-31 doesn’t quite match the F-35 technologically, one area the Chinese are currently investing in is a new long-range missile called the PL-15. It appears to be very similar to the European Meteor beyond visual range missile. Like the Meteor, the Chinese weapon is a ramjet powered missile, which should give it very long range and much better terminal phase performance than the venerable AIM-120 AMRAAM. The AMRAAM’s rocket motor burns for a few seconds and it coasts the rest of the way to the target—like most air-to-air weapons. Further, the AMRAAM is highly vulnerable to digital radio frequency memory jamming and needs to be replaced.
Russia and China are not likely to attempt to develop an all fifth-generation fighter fleet—instead, for the foreseeable future, the derivatives of the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker air superiority fighter will make up the bulk of their tactical air arsenals. The most potent Flanker derivative is the Su-35, which is a much-improved version with vastly improved avionics, engines and airframe. In the years ahead, this latest Flanker-E is likely to proliferate around the world.
Unlike a Raptor, which was designed from the outset as an air-to-air killer par excellence—the F-35 was not. The Raptor combines a very stealthy airframe with a high altitude ceiling and supersonic cruise speeds in excess of Mach 1.8. Compared to that, the F-35 can just barely touch Mach 1.6 in full afterburner. Further, the F-22 possesses excellent maneuverability for close-in visual-range dogfights––it crushes the competition in terms of turn rate, radius, angle-of-attack and energy addition at all altitudes.
Whereas a four-ship flight of Raptors cruising at high supersonic speeds in the rarified atmosphere above 50,000 feet can effectively choose when and where to fight, a flight of slower, lower-flying F-35s might find themselves forced to react to better-performing enemy planes if they are not careful.
SOURCES – Wikipedia, National Interest, chinese-military-aviation