Stealth fighter moves out of the shadows

Updated: 2014-11-11 08:18

By Zhao Lei in Zhuhai, Guangdong province(China Daily)

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China officially unveiled its ambitious stealth aircraft project on Monday by showing a fifth-generation fighter jet at the country's largest defense exhibition, a move observers say is intended to attract foreign buyers.

"The J-31 Gyrfalcon is able to compete with any other aircraft of its kind, "Li Yuhai, deputy general manager of the Aviation Industry Corp of China, the country's leading plane maker, said at a news conference in Zhuhai, Guangdong province.

"Since the very beginning of its development, we have intended to use the plane to end some foreign nations' monopoly on fifth-generation fighter jets, and one of its variants will be specifically designed for export," Li told reporters. "It will be our trump card to tap the international market at the air show."

Fifth-generation fighter jets have advanced stealth technology and other features that previous model slack.

Before Li's announcement, AVIC and the People's Liberation Army air force had never formally displayed the results of their fifth-generation fighter jet program, even though the decade-long efforts have made China only the third country after the United States and Russia that is capable of developing stealth aircraft.

The twin-engine, radar-dodging J-31 is set to make its public debut on Tuesday at the opening of the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, known as Air show China, in Zhuhai.

Nearly 700 companies from China and abroad will present more than 120 aircraft, as well as other defense products including missiles and armored vehicles, at the six-day show.

"The J-31 Gyrfalcon will be the only fifth-generation fighter jet to take part in an air show apart from the Lock heed Martin F-22 Raptor that was shown at the 2008 Farnborough International Air show (in the UK)," Li said.

The J-31's maiden flight took place in October 2012, stunning the world as few people believed China could develop another fifth-generation fighter following the J-20 stealth aircraft, which made its first flight in January 2011.

During the past two years, the J-31 has undergone a test flight program, and some changes have been made to its design, according to aviation enthusiasts who closely follow its development.

Sun Cong, the jet's chief designer, previously told Xinhua News Agency that he hopes the plane can pair up with the J-20 in the future, and that a version of the J-31 can become China's next-generation carrier-borne fighter jet.

China Aviation News, a paper published by AVIC, reported that engineers had made "significant breakthroughs" in the J-31's development in terms of aerodynamics, its structure and its stealth capability.

Compared with that of other Chinese aircraft, the development of the J-31 has been very fast, with good progress being made in areas such as weight control and system integration, the newspaper said.

The appearance of the J-31 at the air show indicates that China is now willing to display the rapid advances it is making in defense technology, analysts said. They added that the move is also intended to attract attention from developing nations that want fifth-generation fighter jets but cannot afford expensive US or Russian products such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II or the Sukhoi T-50.

Xu Yongling, a former test pilot and military aviation expert, said the advanced fighters made by Western countries are usually subject to rigid technological and export controls, and are very expensive. Consequently, those developed by China, which also have superior capabilities but will be available at reasonable prices, may become a good choice for developing nations.

Xu Bangnian, a professor of aviation studies at the PLA Air Force Command Institute, said: "Even if the PLA air force and navy currently don't need the J-31, the plane will still become sought-after in the international military aircraft market, since it appears to be the only choice for affordable stealth aircraft.

"For developing nations with constrained military budgets, the J-31 has irresistible appeal."

 Stealth fighter moves out of the shadows

A stealth fighter J31 performs ahead of the Airshow China 2014 in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, on Saturday. The 10th Airshow China takes place from Tuesday to Sunday. Yang Guang / Xinhua

(China Daily USA 11/11/2014 page3)