Fighters

The next generation carrier-based stealth fighter was rumored to be selected between the larger J-20 (navalized) from 611 Institute and the smaller FC-31 (navalized) from the 601 Institute.

J-20 Mighty Dragon/Firefang

The J-20 (K/JJ20?) #2001 technology demonstrator made its maiden flight on January 11, 2011 over the city of Chengdu, wearing a distinctive dark gray color scheme and powered by two AL-31F series turbofan engines. The prototype features a pair of all-moving tailfins and Russian 1.44 style twin ventral stabilizing fins and tail booms, which shield the engine nozzles and its heat exhausts but might increase RCS. Also there are four large underwing actuator fairings but their size was reduced on later prototypes. It also features an F-22 style nosecone, F-35 style engine inlets with non-adjustable DSI bumps installed at the upper inner corners, as well as a one-piece frameless canopy. Small LERX are installed between the canards and main wings in order to generate vortex together with the canards at high AoA. Two small dark diamond shaped windows can be seen on both sides of the nose, which could house EO sensors. Two more diamond shaped windows are seen underneath the rear fuselage, plus two more located forward and aft the cockpit, suggesting a distributed situational awareness system similar to the EODAS onboard American F-35 could have been installed to provide a full 360° coverage. Besides a large belly weapon bay for medium/long-range AAMs (up to 4 PL-15 or PL-21), two smaller lateral weapon bays have been identified behind the air inlets for short-range AAMs (one PL-10 in each). The 2001 prototype appeared to fly without an internal gun but this might change later. First disclosed by US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in 1997 as XXJ, J-20 (Project 718) is a 4th generation heavy air superiority fighter to enter the service with PLAAF between 2016 and 2018, a time frame much faster than the one (>2020) anticipated by the western military analysts. Since early 90s both CAC/611 Institute and SAC/601 Institute had been working their own designs to bid for a twin-engine heavy fighter with stealth capability and maneuverability comparable to American F-22. It was speculated that 601 Institute had worked on a "tri-plane" design based on canard/conventional layout/V-shape tailfin while 611 Institute working on a design based on canard/tailless delta wing/V-shape tailfin/lateral DSI/bump inlet layout. All designs would feature a belly internal weapon bay to reduce RCS, which has been speculated to be <0.05m2 (head-on). J-20 also incorporates an advanced optic HSDB system fully integrating the fire-control and the engine systems. The aircraft has a smooth surface without any protruding tubes or inlets, suggesting an FADS has been installed in order to reduce RCS. Its fire-control radar is believed to be AESA (Type 1475/KLJ5?) based on the less powerful model onboard J-10C, both are developed by the 14th Institute. The radar is thought to be comparable to American APG-77. Both the radar and the CNI system were tested onboard a modified Tu-204C avionics testbed, similar to American Boeing 757 testbed for F-22. The next generation advanced datalink (MADL) is believed to be installed as well which provides secure networking with other J-20s and KJ-200/500/2000 AWACS. The aircraft also features a "pure" glass cockpit and possibly HMD. J-20 has a retractable IFR probe hidden beneath a cover on the starboard side of the cockpit similar to the one onboard F-35. Many of these subsystems have been tested onboard J-10B/C to speed up the development. The exact types of engine powering prototypes are unclear, even though a Russian or Chinese turbofan engine including AL-31F-M1/M2 (13.5t/14.5t class) and enhanced WS-10 (WS-10B? 13t class) was speculated. In the end the Russian engine is believed to be the likely candidate. It has been speculated that either all prototypes are powered by AL-31F-M1, or 200x technology demonstrators are powered by AL-31F-M1,  then 201x prototypes and LRIP J-20s are powered by AL-31F-M2 (A Configuration?). The engine was once fitted with a silver color (ceramic coating?) "stealth" nozzle with saw tooth edges to reduce RCS and IR emission but it was not adopted in the end. As the result J-20 in current configuration is under-powered and lacks the super-cruise capability. It was first reported in November 2006 that a 16-17t class T/W=9 turbofan (WS-15/"Large Thrust"/Emei?) with a TVC nozzle is being developed and will eventually power J-20s of later production batches (B Configuration?). Therefore J-20 is expected to finally gain the super-cruise capability once the WS-15 turbofan becomes available. Russian assistance was also speculated in terms of software support for calculating the RCS and aerodynamics of various designs. The overall performance of J-20 is thought to be superior to that of Russian T-50 but still inferior to that of American F-22. Once entering the service, J-20 could pose a significant impact/challenge to the air power balance in eastern Asian and western Pacific region. It has prompted the neighboring countries including Japan and South Korea to pursue other 4th/5th-generation stealth fighters such as F-35. In August 2008 it was reported that 611 Institute was selected to be the main contractor for the development of J-20 and 601 Institute as the sub-contractor. Subsequently a full-scale metal mockup was built at CAC. One rumor in May 2010 claimed that 611 Institute started to construct the first prototype, which was expected to fly by the end of 2010. Two technology demonstrators were constructed and the first low-speed taxi trial by #2001 took place on November 4, 2010. The #2002 made its maiden flight on May 16, 2012. Both #2001 and #2002 were sent to CFTE in Yanliang in 2012, where #2002 was renumbered as 2004 and #2001 tested a light gray RAM paint. In March 2013 the #2002 technology demonstrator was seen conducting weapon integration tests with a dummy PL-10 IIR guided short-range AAM on its retractable side missile launch rail. Unlike that of F-22, the weapon bay door is closed while the missile rack is fully extended externally to maintain low RCS and reduce drag during dogfight. In July 2013 it conducted similar tests carrying dummy PL-15 AAMs inside the belly weapon bay. The building the third J-20 was delayed until late 2013 due to the fact that the new #2011 prototype features certain "major improvements" and is no longer considered as a "technology demonstrator". The first low-speed taxi test of #2011 prototype took place on January 16, 2014,  high-speed taxi test on February 18, 2014. The aircraft was seen to have a nosed mounted IRST and an F-35 style frame-strengthened one-piece canopy plus a new wide-angle holographic HUD with a slimmer frame. Its cockpit might have also been upgraded with a large 24x9" touchscreen panoramic cockpit display (PCD) controlled by voice commands similar to that of F-35 plus a smaller LCD between the legs. As the result a side-stick and the throttle are expected to be installed to control the aircraft. The combination of AESA radar, EODAS, IRST, advanced cockpit design and HMD further improves pilot's situation awareness by providing the highest degree of "information fusion". The emergence of IRST suggests that J-20 might possess a limited AG capability using laser or TV guided PGMs. In addition it has numerous aerodynamic refinements including reshaped tailfins, extended tail booms, nose landing gear door, LERX and engine intakes with two hexagonal inlet/outlet of the fuel-air heat exchanger as well as smaller underwing actuators to further reduce RCS. Two side-looking radar antennas may have been installed underneath the elongated hexagonal dielectric fairings (in X & Y directions) on each side of the nose, which provide a better situation awareness and extended missile guidance during the dogfight. Two large tail booms appear to house additional ECM or rear-view radar antennas to protect the rear hemisphere of the aircraft. A new ECM antenna can be seen aft the air intake as well. The 201x prototype also started to wear a new light blue/medium gray RAM coating. The #2011 prototype first took off into the sky on March 1, 2014. Different types of "stealth" nozzle were tested on one of the engines onboard #2011 in April 2014. The first flight of #2012 took place on July 26, 2014. The #2013 prototype took off for the first time on November 29, 2014, and the #2015 prototype on December 19, 2014. Both 2013 and 2015 have the pitot tube removed from the nose and both feature a further refined nose radome and tail booms, suggesting the AESA radar has been installed. They were speculated to represent a nearly "frozen" technical configuration before the initial production started. The relatively fast pace of two aircraft being rolled out within one month suggested that the J-20 program was moving on schedule towards the low-rate initial production which could start as early as 2016. It was rumored in April 2015 that both 2013 and 2015 prototypes were to be transferred to CFTE for further testing. The #2016 prototype made its first flight on September 18, 2015. The aircraft appears to feature slightly reshaped DSI bumps, engine nozzles as well as a new ejection seat. The aircraft was transferred to CFTE for further testing on December 2, 2015. The last prototype (#2017) had its maiden flight on November 24, 2015 before the initial production started in late 2015. The aircraft appears to feature a slightly reshaped canopy. Two pairs of chaff and flare launchers were installed in the tail booms between the vertical tailfin and the engine nozzle. There has been speculations that a compartment was reserved for an internal gun underneath a top panel on the port side of the fuselage next to the canard wing but this has not been confirmed. It is likely that the LRIP model is being produced without a gun. A new J-20 in yellow primer first appeared in December 2015 which was likely to be the first LRIP model (2101, 00 batch). First flight took place on January 18, 2016. More 00 batch J-20s (J-20A?) are being built in 2016, at least 4 (2101-2104?) by mid-2016, wearing a medium gray color scheme and low-visibility PLAAF insignias. The aircraft appears to have 4 hardpoints underneath the wings for external payloads such as PL-10/PL-15 AAMs and fuel tanks. They can be carried during routine air patrols in peacetime. The pylons can be jettisoned in case of an emergency situation and the aircraft will quickly turn into the stealthy combat mode. The first batch of six was expected to enter the service with PLAAF Dingxin Flight Test & Training Base by the end of 2016 (S/N 78x7x). Recent images (October 2016) indicated that two LRIP aircraft were wearing a new splinter camouflage similar to that of Russian T-50. In addition test flights were flown by #2012 prototype at CFTE carrying four 2,400L (?) drop tanks for long-range escort/interception missions. J-20 was officially unveiled to the public at the 2016 Zhuhai Airshow. The first two J-20s (78271 & 78272) were handed over to PLAAF on December 12, 2016. Currently at least 6 J-20s are in service with PLAAF Dingxin Flight Test & Training Base. A recent rumor (March 2017) suggested that J-20 is preparing for the integration of the new WS-15 turbofan engine. The latest image (September 2017) indicated that since early 2017 a J-20A prototype (#2021) has been fitted with two indigenous WS-10X turbofan engines (based on WS-10B, 13t class?) featuring stealth nozzles with saw tooth edges, suggesting that Chinese have finally developed a comparable engine to replace its Russian counterpart. First flight of J-20A took place on September 19, 2017. The latest rumor (September 2017) claimed that J-20 has been selected by PLAN as its first land-based stealth fighter (J-20H?) but this has not been confirmed.
- Last Updated 10/18/17

FC-31 Gyrfalcon

The FC-31 (Project 310/J-35?) 02 prototype was approaching the SAC airfield. The aircraft has a conventional design with twin engines and two large canted swept tailfins similar to American F-35. As the result the ventral stabilizing fins are eliminated to save weight and reduce RCS. In addition it features DSIs, two piece canopy and a pentagon shaped nose similar to F-35. A Russian K-36D ejection seat was also installed. Like J-20, a retractable IFR probe could be installed on the starboard side slightly forward of the canopy. An IRST will be installed under the nose in the future. As a 4th generation fighter FC-31 is expected to be equipped with advanced avionics such as an AESA radar and a glass cockpit featuring three large color LED MFDs and a wide-angle holographic HUD. The aircraft could eventually be fitted an F-35 style single piece extra-large panoramic cockpit display (PCD) as specified by the customer. The prototype is initially powered by the indigenous WS-13A turbofan (8.5t class) but later by the new 9.5t class "Medium Thrust" engine (WS-19? might feature 2D TVC). The engine nozzles on the 01 prototype initially appeared without any stealth measures applied. However they are partially shielded by the two horizontal stabilizers extending further back, similar to F-35, thus reduces the IR and radar signatures. FC-31 features a single internal weapon bay inside its belly housing up to 6 AAMs including PL-10, PL-15 and PL-21. The aircraft is also thought to have a secondary surface attack capability where it can carry 50kg class SDBs internally such as LS-6/FT-7 satellite guided bomb and GB50 LGB, or the larger YJ-83K AshM and YJ-91 ARM externally under 6 hardpoints. An internal gun is thought to be installed as well but its exact location is still unknown. However due to its relatively small size and lower engine thrust compared to J-20, FC-31 should have a smaller internal payload and a shorter combat radius. It is not expected to have the super-cruise capability initially either when powered by WS-13A. However it does carry a relatively cheaper price tag and have a relatively "balanced" performance. Some specifications (speculated): length 17.3m, height 4.8m, wingspan 11.5m, normal TO weight 17.5t, MTOW 28t, combat radius 1,250km with internal fuel, max peed Mach 1.8, ceiling 16km, TO distance 450m, max g load +9/-3, max weapon load 8t (internal 2t, external 6t). It was first rumored in April 2011 that 601/SAC was developing a 4th generation medium multi-role stealth fighter as Project 310 since 2007 after its own heavy stealth fighter design lost the bid to 611/CAC's J-20 (see above). A scale-down model (dubbed F-60) of FC-31 was first unveiled by the 601 Institute at the first International UAV Innovation Grand Prix held in Beijing in September 2011. A full-scale metal model was probably built in early 2011. One airframe was transported to the 623 Institute in Yanliang for static tests in June 2012. The first prototype was under construction since late 2011. Its first flight took place on October 31, 2012, powered by two smoky WS-13 turbofans. So far only a single prototype was constructed for test flights. As a private venture of AVIC, FC-31 (dubbed AFC/Advanced Fighter Concept) is being promoted at the international market as a low-cost alternative to American F-35. Therefore it could have some negative impact on the prospects of FC-1/JF-17 in 7-10 years. Its first foreign customer is likely to be Pakistani AF. As for the domestic market, it could be a good candidate to replace some of the remaining J-7/8 series fighters still in service with PLAAF and PLAN, together with the 3.5th generation J-10B/C and J-11D. However so far neither PLAAF or PLAN has made any commitment. FC-31 was partially unveiled at 2012 Zhuhai Airshow as an "advanced fighter concept". One image taken in December 2013 suggested that FC-31 was testing a new silver color "stealth" nozzle similar to those onboard J-20. The 02 prototype was expected to feature "major" improvements in order to make it more attractive to domestic/foreign customers. Those improvements include a one-piece canopy, a new wide-angle holographic HUD similar to the one onboard J-20, two indigenous WS-13E turbofan engines with a higher thrust, a longer and fatter fuselage made of more composite materials, a bigger internal weapon bay, larger wing area, reshaped F-35 style vertical tailfins and cropped wing and horizontal stabilizer tips similar to those of F-22. It also has the provisions for nose-mounted IRST, EODAS throughout the fuselage, as well as 6 underwing hardpoints to be installed later. It was rumored that the 01 prototype powered by two upgraded WS-13E turbofan engines flew for the first time on July 1, 2016. An AVIC promotional video released at the 2016 Zhuhai Airshow indicated the 02 prototype was built and was preparing for the maiden flight. The high-speed taxiing test of the 02 prototype started on December 18, 2016. First flight took place on December 23, 2016, powered by two smokeless WS-13E engines. Currently the test flight of the 02 prototype continues at SAC. A recent rumor (June 2017) suggested that the 03 prototype is being developed which could become the first prototype of the new carrier-based stealth fighter for PLAN. If ordered now by a foreign customer, FC-31 could enter the production as early as 2019 and achieve IOC in 2022.
- Last Updated 11/14/17