China's new generation carrier-based stealth jet, to compete with the U.S. Navy's F-35C fighter, would take to the skies by end-202, was revealed at the Zhuhai Airshow on Wednesday.
"Once the new plane is ready for its debut flight, it will appear in front of all of you and also on the internet. So take it easy and wait. You will get to see it before year's end," Sun Cong, president of the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, was quoted as saying by China Military, the official English-language news website of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Sun was the chief designer of the country's first carrier-based fighter jet, the J-15; and the second stealth fighter－the Shenyang FC-31. It was the first statement by anyone from AVIC about the possible time when the new plane will appear publicly or even conduct its maiden flight.
Experts speculate the new carrier-based jet must have been designed based on the FC-31, seen as competitor to America’s F-35 Lightning II. It could be possible, as an unverified photo surfaced on social media in June 2021 that for the first time, showed an FC-31-like model positioned on the “flight deck” of a full-size mock aircraft carrier at a naval test facility in Hubei Province’s Wuhan.
The twin-engine, radar-evading FC-31 fighter jet was unveiled in October 2012 when a prototype made its maiden flight. The FC-31 has a high survivability rate－the degree to which the craft and its crew could withstand a hostile environment－a low radar signature, advanced electronic countermeasures, a strong information gathering and handling capacity, outstanding situational awareness and beyond-visual-range combat capability.
In addition to air combat, it can also carry out strikes against land and sea targets.
The aircraft has a large weapons bay and can carry multiple external missiles.
According to AVIC, the FC-31 has a maximum takeoff weight of 28 metric tons, an operational ceiling of 15 km and a top speed of Mach 1.8, or 2,205 kmph.
The F-35C is the carrier variant of the F-35 series of fighter jets. The -C model features more robust landing gear to handle carrier takeoffs and landings, folding wings to fit on a crowded flight deck, larger wings, a slightly larger payload, and a slightly longer operating range.
The PLA Navy now operates two aircraft carriers－CNS Liaoning and CNS Shandong. The Liaoning was commissioned to the Navy in September 2012 after being refitted in China for several years from an imported Sovietera vessel, while the Shandong was domestically designed and constructed and entered service in December 2019.