J-31: China’s New Stealth Fighter

Yesterday at the Zhuhai Air Show,  China’s new stealth fighter made its debut to the world.  The aircraft, called the J-31, is part of the country’s plan to enter the high-end international arms market.

This public unveiling was designed for maximal coverage.  According to Bloomberg, aerospace companies from around the world were present for the event.  Its demonstration even coincided with President Obama’s trip to Beijing.

When it comes to stealth technology, the United States has traditionally held the monopoly.  A New York Times article notes that, “The United States is the only country with operational stealth planes, and Lockheed Martin the only company to have successfully exported one, the F-35.”

The J-31 appears to be China’s response to the F-35.  It is their attempt to build a cheaper jet that is more appealing in the global market.

Does the new jet stand up to American-made fighters?  Perhaps not.  Foreign Policy explains that many are skeptical of the J-31’s design:

Technical questions continue to dog the J-31, however. Chinese aeronautical engineers have still not perfected the design of high-performance jet engines, forcing the J-31’s manufacturer to use Russian engines. Although the jet shares many design features of a stealth plane, it’s unclear whether they measure up to the radar-evading capabilities of its American counterparts, the F-22 and F-35.

Popular Science has a nice article about some of the fighter’s more technical aspects.  The piece also mentions praise for the Chinese jet:

Vladimir Barkovsky, chief of the Russian MiG aircraft design bureau, has praised the J-31 as a ‘well done indigenous design’ and ‘good machine’ resulting from China’s ambitious aviation industry.

The J-31 is the just one of two Chinese-made stealth planes.  The other, known as the J-20 is the J-31’s bigger brother and did not make an appearance in yesterday’s showing.  Foreign Policy speculates that this second fighter will be an exclusively Chinese aircraft, not to be sold abroad.  The J-20 is likely designed to compete against the other American stealth fighter, the F-22.  Aviation Week has a piece comparing the technical aspects of the two planes.

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