Stealth Race: China Has Started Building A NEW Stealth Fighter

Stealth Race: China Has Started Building A NEW Stealth Fighter

David Axe

Security, Asia

Joining many other nations in a quest for air supremacy.

Key point: There has been a veritable explosion of stealth-fighter projects in recent years as a growing number of countries try to fill niches in their own force structures while also eyeing the international market for advanced warplanes.

China reportedly is developing a new stealth fighter. The new warplane, under development by the Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute, could be a clean-sheet design. Or it might be a development of the company’s older FC-31, an export-optimized stealth fighter that has yet to secure a single order.

Shenyang and the military department of the AVIC Manufacturing Technology Institute in 2018 jointly established a team codenamed “J.J.” with the goal of developing the new type fighter, Global Times reported, citing an article that the companies published on social media platform WeChat.

“The joint-development project was first planned in June 2018 and commenced with an opening ceremony in September 2018,” Global Times reported. “The J.J. team submitted an illustration of a test piece in November 2019, according to the article.”

The joint team reportedly is focusing on developing a curved, S-shape engine inlet. Curved inlets can block an engine’s turbines from view, thus reducing a plane’s radar signature. But the S-shape inlets are difficult to design and integrate.

China’s first operational stealth fighter, the twin-engine J-20, entered service in 2019. Around 15 are in service with a single front-line regiment, according to unofficial tallies. Whereas Beijing specifically commissioned the J-20 from manufacturer Chengdu, the later FC-31 was a strictly private project that Shenyang hoped would lead to domestic or foreign orders.

But the twin-engine FC-31 remains unsold. There were rumors that the type might evolve into a sea-based fighter for China’s future, large aircraft carriers, but now it appears a version of the J-20 will fill that role. In developing a new stealth fighter, Shenyang might be admitting that the comparatively lightweight FC-31 is a failure.

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