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J-31 / F-60? Export Potential

China is prepared to sell the J-31 to countries - Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, for instance - to which the United States will not sell the roughly comparable F-35. Beyond the Chinese market, likely customers for the F-31 include countries that have operated earlier generation Chinese export fighters like the F-7 and JF-17 (such as Pakistan and Egypt), those looking for less expensive or non-US alternatives, and particulary Arab [eg, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc] countries that are unlikely to be permitted to buy American stealth aircraft.

Export customers for the J-31 would help offset some of its development costs. Developing two low observable fighters at a one time is not a cheap task. China has only a limited requirement for the carrier-based J-31, so most of the production must be focused on the export market.

Since August 2013 China's fourth-generation stealth fighter, the J-31 Falcon Hawk, carried out more than three sets of trial flights at a rapidly increasing frequency. America's fourth-generation [according to Chinese taxonomy] equivalent has achieved significant market penetration, but Chinese analysts believe that the performance of the J-31 will make it a strong competitor in this market.

Although similar to the J-20 stealth fighter, the J-31's overall aerodynamic design and stealth appearance is not identical with J-20, which has a higher degree of public exposure. Military analysts prefer to compare the relation of J-31 and J-20 with that of the US Air Force F-22 and F-35. The J-31 and F-35 use the same forward swept intake ramps with diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) bumps (non-boundary layer separated lane supersonic inlet) design. The difference is, the F-35 uses a single engine to provide power, but J-31 is designed with double engines. In addition, some models of F-35 support the short distance/vertical landing; J-31 cannot do this [at least for the time being].

China's Air Force test pilot expert Xu Yongling claimed that the J-31's stealth aerodynamic design, stealth engine design and stealth coating design have all reached internationally advanced standards in stealth technology. He also claimed that the J-31 possesses both stealth and a considerable payload capability. In addition, Xu Yongling said that China had its own considerations in the development of fourth-generation aircraft, taking account not only of the need for stealth, but also of its performance in air-to-ground and air-to-air combat, and the relevant weapons requirements. This meant that in payload, the J-31 will prevail over the F-35.

The company that developed China's J-31 stealth fighter denied 12 December 2014 that its jet could take down the US F-35 Joint Strike fighter, but admitted challenging the latter had always been its goal. The denial came after Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) president Lin Zuoming said in an interview with China Central Television that "[our model] should be able to take [the opponent model] down when it takes to the sky." Lin added that he is "fully confident" the company's chief designer has taken "the opponent model" into consideration when the J-31 was designed.

Lin was merely stating the goal of the J-31. The J-31 fighter's chief designer, Sun Cong, said in the same interview that the assumed potential opponent of J-31 was F-35. While boasting better performance than its US counterpart in some aspects, Sun admitted that the J-31 has some flaws, but said "basically the model has met our expectations."

"Both the J-31 and J-20 are products of China's move to develop stealth fighters It is unrealistic for the two models to surpass their US counterparts in a short period of time," Wang Yanan, the deputy chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times 13 December 2014. Wang added that the US, which is the forerunner in stealth fighter development, has also experienced challenges in its stealth fighter development program and the F-35 still faced problems, including engine problems.

A landmark in international military aviation history, the Chinese "fourth-generation" stealth aircraft will not only have a great impact on combat strategy, but also exercise a tremendous influence on geopolitics, especially on international relations and the geo-strategic situation in the Asia-Pacific region. The stealth fighter has gone beyond a simple weapons platform; its presence is now an indication of the balances and the strategic considerations at play among different countries.

It could be said that the high-tech weapon systems represented by stealth fighters are becoming a new variable in the Sino-US strategic game. Chinese experts predict that the J-31 will make rapid inroads in the international market in the future and will steal the limelight from the F-35. China's fourth-generation aircraft will become a new option for those countries which have not yet made the decision to purchase the F-35. In particular for those countries which are excluded from access to US arms exports, China's fourth generation aircraft may be attractive. The J-31, with its main target as the export market, represents a potential threat to US arms manufacturers.

China's leading aircraft manufacturer was on the verge of exporting its fifth-generation fighter jet. Aviation Industry Corp of China disclosed the technical specifications of the J-31 Gyrfalcon at an aviation expo even though the plane was still being tested, the sources said. During the four-day Aviation Expo China 2015, a biennial event held in Beijing in mid-September 2015, AVIC also displayed a large-scale model of the J-31.

Expo visitors were surprised that the State-owned defense contractor was willing to declassify the J-31's specifications, as it had never previously released such information on military air-craft until they entered mass-production and were ready for export. Analysts said the decision indicated that the corporation wanted potential foreign buyers to learn about the plane's capabilities as soon as possible so that it can secure contracts when the jet becomes operational.

The published specifications were significantly less impressive than specifications that were previously in public circulation.

The FC-31 made its international debut at the 14th Dubai Airshow on 10 November 2015. Lin Peng, FC-31's chief designer, says the fighter can be customized according to users' demands. "The users can designate domestic or International suppliers to provide communications equipment, sensors and guided weapons. The FC-31 was expected to make its first flight in 2019. It will reach its initial operating capability in 2022. And by 2024, the FC-31 would have full operational capability."

The twin-engine, radar-evading stealth fighter was developed by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, or AVIC. Deputy general manager Li Yuhai says the FC-31 is equal to other types of fighters of the same class in terms of its platform and systems performance, and is also cost effective."No matter if it's in terms of the cost of a single fighter or in terms of the cost throughout a fighter's whole life cycle, the FC-31 is better than any other fighter of the same class."

Named Shenyang J-31 in Chinese, the fighter made its maiden flight in late 2012 and was displayed to the public for the first time in late 2014 during China's International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition. The fighter's debut at Dubai Airshow marks the first time that China has introduced a domestically-built fighter jet on the international stage. In the past, China's roles have mainly involved production or supportive services.

The biennial Dubai Airshow, the biggest in the Middle East and Africa, was first held in 1989 and is considered to be one of the fastest growing air shows in the world. At the 2013 show, deals reached more than 20.6 billion U.S. dollars in total.




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