China To Develop Naval Variant Of FC-31 Fighter

The FC-31, China’s second fighter jet, is a top candidate to become the country’s next-generation aircraft carrier-based fighter jet after receiving corresponding upgrades, military observers said on Wednesday, after foreign media outlets posted a photo showing a full-size model of the fighter that was recently spotted on a full-size mock aircraft carrier, allegedly used to evaluate the country’s carrier development.

An unverified photo recently surfaced on social media that, for the first time, showed an FC-31-like model positioned on the full-size mock aircraft carrier located in Wuhan, Central China’s Hubei Province. It was being used to evaluate aircraft for potential use at sea, US media outlet thedrive.com reported on Tuesday.

Mock-ups of other aircraft, including J-15 carrier-based fighter jets and a Z-18 ship-borne helicopter, were also seen in the photo. These two aircraft are already being used on China’s current aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong.

Putting a full-size aircraft model on the mock aircraft carrier test platform indicates that the aircraft could be an option for carrier usage, since this procedure could be used to test the aircraft’s size, operational scope and compatibility on a real-size carrier flight deck, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

This means that the FC-31, once it is upgraded to suit the needs of carrier operations, could be a top option for China’s next-generation carrier-based fighter jet, Fu predicted.

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As a medium-sized stealth aircraft, the FC-31 is unlikely to replace the heavy but non-stealth J-15, as the two will complement each other for the foreseeable future, similar to the relationship between the US’ F-35C and F/A-18, Fu said. China’s carrier-based fighter jet combination will be able to compete with the world’s most advanced planes, said Fu.

This is not the first time a new carrier-based aircraft has been spotted on the mock aircraft carrier deck in Wuhan.

Another sighting took place in July 2018, when a mock-up of what was believed to be a KJ-600 fixed-wing, carrier-based early warning aircraft was photographed on the concrete-made mock carrier, Beijing-based newspaper Science and Technology Daily reported at the time. 

The KJ-600 eventually made its reported maiden flight in August 2020, and it is widely expected to be on board China’s future aircraft carriers.

The Chinese Navy is not only developing warships very fast, but also develops the equipment of its aviation force, as it is getting more aircraft types including fixed-wing, carrier-based early warning aircraft that would increase its comprehensive combat capabilities, Fu said.

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