Chinese navalized FC-31 gets into engine trouble

China is developing a new type of fighter jet based on FC-31, according to the country’s top aircraft design institutes. Military observers predict, based on publicly available information, that the aircraft will new feature the significant use of advanced composite materials.

The FC-31 is a single-seat, twin-engine multi-role fighter jet catering to the demands of future battlefield environments. It’s 17.3 meters long and has a wingspan of 11.5 meters, according to an info flyer obtained by the Global Times at Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province.

In 2018, the structure department of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute and the arms project department of the AVIC Manufacturing Technology Institute jointly established a team codenamed “JJ” with the aim of developing a new type of fighter jet, according to an article released on both institutes’ public WeChat accounts this week.

The joint-development project was first planned in June 2018 and commenced with an opening ceremony in September 2018. The JJ team submitted an illustration of a test piece in November 2019, according to the article.

“The team has completed the cross-phase development of the new fighter jet. [We] have used innovation and realized a technical breakthrough for the body’s design and manufacturing,” said Xiao Shan, one of the awarded researchers, according to the article.

Many military enthusiasts also expect the Shenyang Institute to develop China’s next-generation carrier-based fighter jet which is planned to equip the PLA Navy aircraft carriers, starting with Type003.

Defense expert believes that Chinese communist party-run Global Times stops publishing articles on FC-31 meaning the program ran into technical difficulties in developmental phase hence the communist party stop publishing further information. In a normal circumstances communist propaganda mouth piece, Global Times would be publishing regular updates on the development of the FC-31 fighter jet.

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The fact that no information about the implementation of the J-31 project has appeared in the Chinese press for a long time, gives rise to talking about new problems with this aircraft. 

A team at China Aero-Polytechnology Establishment under the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has delayed work while fighting the COVID-19 epidemic and technical issues, according to a statement the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment released on its WeChat public account on Monday.

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 in the next decade.

The statement was removed by its publisher as of Tuesday evening.

A few months ago, the Chinese media published materials that spoke of such a serious problem with the FC-31 (J-31) as the lack of suitable engines. In particular, it was pointed out that the available aircraft engines do not allow the J-31 fighters to achieve acceptable performance in take-off from the aircraft carrier and land at a short distance. This would mean that FC-31 would be another “flopping fish” as the nickname of “J-15” carrier-borne fighter of PLA Navy.

Another problem that was initially disclosed by CGTV network that small combat radius of the aricarft with missile and bomb load. With a combat radius of about 700 km with onboard fuel tanks, the maximum payload is about 5-6 tons. With onboard fuel tanks, the combat radius increases to 1100 km, but at the same time, the missile and bomb load is reduced by 40%, while the stealth parameters of the carrier-based fighter are reduced significantly due external payload and fuel tanks.

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