China provided details of its FC-31 fighter aircraft earlier this week, a plane it is accused of developing by stealing secrets from the US F-35.
While a section of the US and European media and defence analysts have been at the forefront of these accusations, a comparison of the features of the both the aircraft will support the claim whether it a copy or an original inspiration.
China is pitching the FC-31 as a cheaper alternative to the F-35 fighter aircraft. On the surface, the FC-31 looks very similar to F-35. However, a comparison of the statistics of both aircraft shows that the FC-31 has a top speed of 2,200 km/h in comparison with 1,930 km/h of the F-35.
The FC-31 has an internal weapon bays and can carry guided and un-guided missiles. The fighter has a strong capability for embedding and hooking weapons. It can be fitted with various advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons, whether from domestic or international sources. It can also be equipped with one aircraft gun, Aviation Industries Corporation of China (AVIC) said in a press release after it introduced the fighter aircraft during the Dubai Air Show 2015.
The wingspan and length of FC-31 is 12 meters and 17 meters respectively while the F-35's wingspan 11 meters and length is 16 meters. The F-35 uses a Pratt and Whittney F135 single engine. The F-135 engine comes in different variant including a conventional, forward thrust variant and a multi-cycle STOVL variant. The propulsion system of Gyrfalcon FC-31 deploys two high performance small bypass ratio turbofan engines, made in China.
FC-31 is capable of BVR multi-target attacking and all-angle attacking with high-off boresight angles. It can be fitted with various advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons, whether from domestic or international sources. It can also be equipped with one aircraft gun. China has been working on long-range missile PL-15 and is more likely to use it with FC-31. The PL-15 is similar to the European Meteor BVR missile.
The F-35 can carry AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-132 ASRAAM short-range air-to-air missiles (AAM) mounted near wingtips and AIM-120 AMRAAM BVR AAM, Storm Shadow cruise missile, AGM-158 Joint Air to Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM) cruise missile, and guided bombs mounted under-wing. The F-35A is armed with a GAU-22/A, a four-barrel version of the 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer cannon. F-35 can fire up to 180 rounds from its four barrel gun.
Northrop Grumman provides active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, electro-optical AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS), Communications, Navigation, Identification (CNI), center fuselage, weapons bay, and arrestor gear. BAE Systems provides the Flight Control Software (FCS1), the electronic warfare systems, crew life support and escape systems, aft fuselage, empennages as well as the horizontal and vertical tails.
F-35 has integrated avionics and sensor fusion that combine information from off- and on-board sensors to increase the pilot's situational awareness besides improve target identification and weapon delivery, and to relay information quickly to other command and control (C2) nodes.
FC-31 features high survivability with low detectability and excellent electronic countermeasures. With its multipurpose capabilities, the fighter can accurately detect targets and synthesize external information. Gyrfalcon FC-31 is China’s independently-developed fourth generation middle-sized multipurpose fighter that is still in the research phase.