AVIC Shenyang FC-31 Naval Variant To Debut In 2021

China’s new-generation carrier-based fighter jet is scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2021, an aviation industry report revealed on Tuesday, according to Communist party run media Global Times.

A team at China Aero-Polytechnology Establishment under the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has resumed work while fighting the COVID-19 epidemic with the aim of supporting the scheduled maiden flight of a new-generation fighter jet in 2021, according to a statement the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment released on its WeChat public account on Monday.

This team is responsible for the new fighter jet’s basic technology project, and other institutes, including AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute and the Chengdu-based No.29 Research Institute under the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC), are also involved in its development, according to the statement.

The statement did not elaborate on the details of the new fighter jet, but the Shenyang institute is known for the development of the J-15, China’s first type of deck-based aircraft, — reverse-engineered fighter jet bases on Russian Su-33, and the FC-31, China’s second type of aircraft rumored to be under deep modification to become a new aircraft carrier-based fighter jet.

The J-15 is currently limited to carrying only two PL-12 air-to-air missiles and two YJ-91 anti-ship missiles due to its heavy gross weight 59,525 lb and thrust to weight ratio .83, –powered by two fuel hungry WS-10 engines limits its combat radius. The WS-10 engines were also responsible for several fires and loss of J-15 onboard aircraft carrier.

Based on available information, it is possible that the new fighter jet introduced in the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment statement is indeed a new aircraft carrier-based fighter jet developed from the FC-31, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese air defense expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

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Fu said that while the Chinese Air Force may eventually require a medium-sized stealth fighter jet to accompany the heavy J-20 stealth fighter jet, the Chinese Navy is in more urgent need of a fighter jet on China’s future aircraft carriers, as the US has already developed F-35B and F-35C stealth fighter jets for amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers.

If this is the case, it will likely take another five years or so of testing following the maiden flight in 2021 to put the new fighter jet into active service, Fu said, noting that this time period could be shortened because the FC-31 has been tested as a technical demonstrator for many years.

According to a statement released by the Shenyang institute in December 2019, it has started developing a new type of fighter jet jointly with AVIC Manufacturing Technology Institute since 2018. This older report did not elaborate on the specifics of the new aircraft.

China is reportedly building new aircraft carrier at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard, which is expected to be launched and commissioned in the 2020s. A more advanced fighter jet could greatly enhance the carrier’s combat capability, analysts said.

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