A top Chinese warplane-producing company Shenyang recently revealed that it expects to make further breakthroughs on its new fifth-generation stealth fighter program over the coming year, including improving additive manufacturing, control over surface electromagnetic defects, and automated fiber placement among other related technologies.
So far, no statement has been released by the company regarding the name of the new fighter jet. However, it has released photos of the J-31 ‘Gyrfalcon’ fighter jet, which is also developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation.
Also known as the Shenyang FC-31 or J-35, the J-31 fighter is a multi-role, twin-engine, mid-size fourth-generation stealth fighter meant for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
Shenyang has been developing a fifth-generation fighter under the FC-31 program for some years, and a prototype of the aircraft made its first public flight in October 2012.
State media reported in January 2021 that an improved version would see its first flight sometime in 2021. While China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force currently already fields a stealth fighter, the heavyweight J-20 developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, the FC-31 could potentially be developed into a lighter and cheaper aircraft to serve in a complementary role.
The FC-31’s development costs could potentially be much lower than those of the J-20 due to many of the necessary technologies already having been developed, making it a potentially low-risk venture with minimal sunk costs.
Shenyang is also researching technologies like a thermal adaptation for the new fighter jet.
“A technological system for the next-generation aircraft will be gradually formed as the company conducts test production and research,” said the company statement.
According to reports, the new fourth-generation fighter jet will be competing against China’s own fifth-generation fighters like the Chinese J-20, the American F-22 Raptors, and the Russian Su-57 fighters.
With the J-20 expected to be restricted for domestic use only, Shenyang’s own fighter program could be aimed at export markets.
There has also been speculation that the FC-31 could be developed into a naval fighter suitable for carrier operations, and could be integrated into the air wings of the Navy’s upcoming supercarriers two of which are currently under construction.
The stealth fighters could potentially serve in a complementary role alongside the J-15B and J-15D fighter if this is seen through, in a similar way to how the U.S. Navy has fielded F-35C stealth fighters alongside its ‘4+ generation’ F-18E and E/A-18G non-stealth aircraft.
Shenyang is one of the two largest producers of fighters in China, and currently produces the J-16 ‘4+ generation’ heavyweight fighter for the Air Force and the J-15, which is based on the same airframe, for the Navy.
Other fighters it had produced which are currently in service include the J-11, the last of which were delivered in 2018, as well as the J-7 light fighter, J-8 II light interceptor and JJ-6 trainer.
Shenyang also played an important role in the development of the H-6 bomber, the most widely used bomber in the world today which is currently in production, as well as the ARJ-21 civilian airliner.