An aviation industry report revealed China is set to show off a new next-generation fighter jet scheduled to debut in 2021, a revamped, combat-ready version of the aircraft carrier-based FC-31 fighter jet.
The next-gen aircraft could either be a new variant of an existing airframe of the FC-31 fighter jet or a totally new design.
Chinese Aeronautical Establishment reported on its public WeChat account that a team at China Aero-Polytechnology Establishment under state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has started work on the scheduled debut flight of the next-generation fighter jet, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Development for the new fighter jet’s technology is undertaken by China Aero-Polytechnology Establishment, AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute and Chengdu-based 29th Research Institute under the auspices of state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC).
Details of the new fighter jet have not yet been released, however, AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute is known for the development of China’s aircraft carrier-based jet, J-15, the first of its kind for The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The Shenyang Institute is also responsible for the development of China’s stealth aircraft, with plans to heavily modify the aircraft into a new aircraft carrier-based fighter jet.
Chinese air defence experts told media that based on available information, the next-generation aircraft carrier-based fighter jet developed by Chinese Aeronautical Establishment is indeed developed from the FC-31 aircraft.
The FC-31 debuted in 2012, however, China never put it into mass production due to their inexperience with manufacturing jet engines. The FC-31 is equipped with Klimov RD-33 engines, the same engines used on Russia’s MiG-29 aircraft. China has struggled with designing high-performance turbofan engines with afterburners, especially in the field of metallurgy, although they have made great strides with manufacturing other aircraft components.
Russia’s policy to sell entire aircraft instead of individual jet engines made mass production of the FC-31 in China impossible. If the next-generation fighter jet from China is indeed based on the FC-31, it could indicate China’s confidence in manufacturing reliable high-performance jet engines.
While The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) may eventually require a stealth-fighter jet to join the flanks of J-20 stealth fighter jet, The People’s Liberation Army Navy is in more urgent need of a stealth fighter jet for their future aircraft carriers. This comes in response to the US F-35B and F-35C stealth fighter jets developed for amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers.
Following the maiden flight of China’s new-generation fighter jet in 2021, testing will most likely take another five years to put the aircraft into active service. With the FC-31 being tested as a technical demonstrator for many years this time period is likely to be shortened, said Chinese defence experts.
A statement from December 2019 released by AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute said development of the new fighter jet had started since 2018 in collaboration with AVIC Manufacturing Technology Institute. The statement did not reveal specifics of the new type of aircraft.
Reports by defence analysts suggest China is in the process of building its third advanced aircraft carrier at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard, expected to be commissioned in the 2020s. The new generation fighter jet could certainly enhance the aircraft carrier’s combat and defence capability.
Military enthusiasts have been speculating online that China’s new aircraft could be a drone fighter jet or space fighter jet.