Home Asia China tests 5th-generation stealth fighter, cheaper competitor to US F-35

China tests 5th-generation stealth fighter, cheaper competitor to US F-35

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Alex Lee / Reuters

China successfully tested its newest twin-engine radar-evading stealth fighter of the fifth generation, local media report, citing sources in the aviation industry. The FC-31 Gyrfalcon can carry 8 tons of weapons and is said to be worth around $70 million.

The revamped version of what was previously known as the J-31 made its debut flight in the northeastern city of Shenyang on Friday, the state-owned China Daily reported.

The trailblazing aircraft is the brainchild of Shenyang Aircraft Corp, part of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

According to AVIC, the FC-31 has a maximum take-off weight of 28 metric tons, a flight radius of 1,250km, and a top speed of Mach 1.8 (or 1.8 times the speed of sound.)

The aircraft can easily carry 8 tons of weapons, holding six missiles in its internal weapons bay, plus another six under its wings.

Sergey Kornev, head of Russia’s Air Force Equipment Export Department, earlier told RIA Novosti the J-31 will fly on Russian aircraft engines RD-93.

A publicity officer at AVIC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the flight test to the China Daily.

The FC-31 first came under the spotlight in 2012 when the first prototype managed to stay airborne for as long as 11 minutes during a test.

The new fighter boasts a number of improvements over the previous one, experts say.

“Compared with the first FC-31, there are a lot of improvements on the second prototype. Changes were made to the airframe, wings and vertical tails, which make it leaner, lighter and more maneuverable,” Wu Peixin, an aviation industry observer in Beijing, told the newspaper.

Another aircraft expert told the China Daily that the new FC-31 has been equipped with an electro-optical targeting system and helmet-mounted display.

According to Fu Qianshao, the next challenge for AVIC is to use the FC-31 to capture market share at home and overseas.

“I believe the aircraft will have bright prospects in the market. Based on my experience and knowledge, I presume its price will be around $70 million, about half that of the United States’ Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II,” Fu said.

“Moreover, the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale fighter jets are priced at about $100 million. All of these mean you can spend a lot less money to get an advanced, fifth-generation stealth combat plane,” he added.

The deputy general manager of AVIC, Li Yuhai, previously told the newspaper that the company wants the FC-31 to help “put an end to some nations’ monopolies on the fifth-generation fighter jet” and this plane “is able to compete with any other aircraft of its kind.”

The only fifth-generation fighter jet currently available on the market is the US Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, a single-engine combat aircraft designed to perform ground attack and air defense missions. According to Lockheed Martin, it’s the “world’s most advanced” multi-role fighter, boasting “unmatched capabilities” to military forces around the world.

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