Shenyang J-31
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Shenyang J-31

August 9, 2019

The Shenyang J-31, also known as “Gyrfalcon”,
or Falcon Hawk by some military enthusiasts, is a twin-engine, mid-size fifth-generation
jet fighter currently under development by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. The fighter
has also been referred to as F-60 or J-21 Snowy Owl in some media reports. Development
A photo of a model labeled F-60 was posted on the Internet in September 2011. In June
2012, photos and camera video clips started to emerge on internet about a heavily overwrapped
possible F-60 prototype being road-transferred on a highway, earning the nickname “the zongzi
plane” among Chinese netizens, though some suspect it of merely being a L-15 trainer
aircraft. Pictures of a possibly fully assembled aircraft parking on an airfield emerged on
September 15–16, 2012. The F-60 is reported to be the export version, where the J-31 would
be the domestic Chinese version of the same fighter.
It is unknown if the J-31 is meant to be a competitor to the J-20 stealth fighter or
a complement to it. It is also unknown if it will be a land-based fighter for the People’s
Liberation Army Air Force, or a carrier-based fighter for the People’s Liberation Army Naval
Air Force on the Liaoning Aircraft Carrier and future Chinese carriers. The J-31’s chief
designer, Sun Cong, has said that he hoped that the aircraft would follow his J-15 onto
China’s aircraft carriers. However, industry sources say development of the J-31 was provided
entirely by the PLAAF with no input from the PLAN. This would mean the Air Force plans
to operate two stealth fighters for different missions, like the U.S. Air Force with the
F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II; the heavier J-20 would primarily be a high-altitude dogfighter,
while the J-31 would perform a multitude of medium and low-altitude missions including
close air support, air interdiction, aerial bombardment, and suppression of enemy air
defenses. On 30 December 2013, Sina Corp reported that
the J-31 would be redesigned to have ground attack capabilities. The J-31 acting as a
stealthy tactical bomber fills a gap in Chinese close air support between the Xian JH-7 and
the expensive Xian H-6 strategic bomber. The PLAAF operates the Sukhoi Su-30MK2 for the
mission, but that is vulnerable to radar detection. By making the J-31 less dedicated to the fighter
role, its range, payload, and stealth can be increased.
Strategic implications The appearance of the J-31 raised concern
about a potential arms race in Asia, as some of China’s neighbors might again start to
consider purchasing the F-35. A 1/4 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. AVIC confirmed at the exhibition that the aircraft was intended for export. In 2013
Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong confirmed that the J-31 was only for export to countries unable
to buy the F-35 and would not be used by the PLAN. Stephen Biddle of the Council for Foreign
Relations has speculated that the aircraft design was intended for domestic use, but
found to be under performing and hence relegated to the export market. However, a new photo
which shows PLAAF officials with a model of the aircraft in air force livery seems to
suggest that the aircraft, contrary to previous beliefs, has received official support. This
may indicate the air force or navy might adopt this aircraft.
Flight testing 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. 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 October 31, 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. The aircraft has continued a limited test program, with footage emerging of further
flights which took place in February 2013. In early April of 2014, new pictures of J-31
started to emerge on the internet, one showing it flying with a new engine which looks very
similar to the WS-13 currently powering the JF-17 thunder fighter for PAF.
Design The J-31 is a mid-weight, twin rudder and
twin-engine jet with the typical configuration that is commonly shared by other 5th generation
fighters such as Sukhoi T-50. J-31 incorporates certain stealth characters such as forward
swept intake cowls with diverterless supersonic inlet bumps and a two-piece canopy.
The J-31 appears to be a smaller and more agile aircraft than the Chengdu J-20 that
resembles a twin engine F-35C. This may be because it might be used as a fifth generation
carrier based fighter. Another feature that the J-31 shares with the F-35C is the twin
forward wheels. Bill Sweetman has cited several improvements to the F-35C design files the
Chinese may have acquired in the J-31. 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.
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.” Barkovsky has confirmed that the engines on the prototype aircraft are RD-93s.
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-13A with 100KN 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. 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. USAF Lieutenant General Charles Davis has
said that while the Chinese fifth generation fighter may have used stolen information from
the F-35 program, it was unlikely to measure up to the American aircraft.
Unlike the F-35’s “baked in” fiber-mat stealth, the J-31 uses stealth coatings.
The J-31 has a flatter fuselage than the F-35; which suggests a more pronounced air superiority
focus for the J-31, since a flatter fuselage results in a smaller weapons bay but improves
fuel efficiency and speed by decreasing drag. Specifications
Because the aircraft is in development, these specifications — based on available imagery
— are approximate and preliminary. Data from Chris Pocock and Aviation Week.
General characteristics Crew: one
Length: 16.9 m Wingspan: 11.5 m
Height: 4.8 m Wing area: 40 m2
Powerplant: 2 × RD-93 afterburning Turbofans, 84 kN thrust each
Powerplant: 2 × WS-13A afterburning Turbofans, 100 kN thrust each
Maximum speed: Mach 1.8 Combat range: 1,250 km
Ferry range: 4,000 km See also Aircraft of comparable role, configuration
and era Chengdu J-20
Northrop YF-23 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Sukhoi PAK FA
Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft TFX
Mitsubishi ATD-X Related lists
List of fighter aircraft References

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