As the F-35 fighter continues to grapple with cost overruns and technical issues concerning F-35 fighter jets, the spotlight falls on the Chinese J-20 and J-31 stealth aircraft, which may emerge as a low cost alternative to America’s most expensive military plane.
“Pentagon officials continue to compare DOD’s progress (on the F-35) with that of the Chinese J-20 and J-31 stealth aircraft and their other capabilities”, a US Department of Defense release issued on June 13, 2014 said.
According to Frank Kendall, US undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, he commissioned the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for its air dominance initiative a year ago. The program, he said, helps the Pentagon assess whether or not to take a “system of systems” approach in aircraft improvements and better analyze how those systems network together.
Kendall hinted about competitors and the need to stay ahead of them in a recent news release pertaining to reducing the F-35 costs. “We need to start thinking now about the requirements for the next blocks of software, after the things that are currently in Block 4,” Kendall said. “This is a game that never ends. You have to stay ahead, and there are competitors out there you have to worry about.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese J-31 continues flight testing at a Shenyang Aircraft Corporation research facility in northern China, according to reports. With a length of about 17 meters and an 11.5m wingspan, the J-31 is about the size of the F-35 Lightning II and smaller than the F-22, J-20 and PAK-FA.
In 2012, a model of the J-31 was displayed at the Zhuhai 2012 Airshow, a clear indication that China hopes to export the aircraft as an alternate option to the F-35.
Pakistan, which has emerged as major customer of China may well be the first export customer for the J-31 which will also serve aboard future Chinese aircraft carriers. China is actively cultivating countries in Africa, Asia and South America as potential customers of its military hardware.
The J-20 made its first flight earlier in March marking a major milestone for the Chinese stealth aircraft program. Resembling the F-22 raptor, the J-20 has used Russian-made AL-31F and Chinese WS-10 engines. A new, purpose-built engine for the J-20 is reportedly in development.
The aircraft features a glass cockpit, with two main large color liquid crystal displays (LCD) situated side-by-side and three smaller auxiliary displays, and a wide-angle holographic head-up display (HUD).
China has accelerated the development of its two stealth aircraft projects, the J-20 “Mighty Dragon” made by the Chengdu Aircraft Company (CAC) and the J-31 “Falcon Eagle” made by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-31 Falcon Eagle. Western media claims that both the Chinese stealth fighters bear a “suspicious resemblance” to the US F-22 and F-35 projects leading to accusations of design theft.