FEATURED | Shenyang J-31 / FC-31 Gyrfalcon : Is it Truly Ready for Exports?
IndraStra Global

FEATURED | Shenyang J-31 / FC-31 Gyrfalcon : Is it Truly Ready for Exports?

By IndraStra Global Editorial Team

FEATURED | Shenyang J-31/FC-31 Gyrfalcon : Is it Truly Ready for Exports?

In December 2014, Lin Zuoming, president of Aviation Industry Corp of China (Avic), which developed the J-31 stealth fighter, confirmed that his company intends to offer the J-31 for export to countries who are not allowed to purchase the F-35, with a long-term goal of offering a competitive fighter, he made these remarks in an interview on state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV). And, with the recent revelation of J-31's technical specifications at the   is a direct attack to undermine the influence of United State's Technology might in the sphere of sophisticated combat aircraft manufacturing system.

"The next-generation air forces that are unable to buy the F-35 have no way to build themselves up. We don't believe the situation should be that way," he said.

"This world should be balanced," Lin added. "Good things shouldn't all be pushed to one party."

Very much similar to his statement Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong has earlier commented on the “Export” orientation of the J-31 project. The probabilities of J-31 joining PLA Air Force on a “Test Bench” are very much high and for the PLA Navy, the J-31 is likely to become China's next-generation carrier-based fighter to replace the J-15.

The appearance of the J-31 eventually raised concern about a potential arms race in Asia, as some of China's neighbours might again consider purchasing the F-35 or pursue the development of their own fifth generation aircraft I.e. India with their HAL AMCA and HAL FGFA, Japan with Mitsubishi ATD-X and South Korea with KAI KF-X. But, the overall capability of the J-31 against the newest fighters, such as the American F-22 and F-35, would depend on factors such as numbers of platforms, quality of pilots, and capabilities of radars and other sensors. 

However, According to Dr. Xu Bangnian, a professor at the PLA Air Force Command Institute reinforced his view on the subject of J-31 export program which he believes an expected international demand for the plane as it appeared to be the only choice for developing countries wanting an affordable fifth-generation stealth aircraft.

While a J-31 prototype or technology demonstrator has started flying, a key question is whether much progress has been made in developing low-observability features that are easily maintained and do not encumber the aircraft with much weight. Let us not forget the fact, the engines on the prototype aircraft are Russian RD-93s - a variant of Klimov RD-33; These are designed specifically for JF-17/FC-1 with increased thrust and relocated gearbox compared to base RD-33's. Although the increase of thrust decreased the service life of RD-93 to 2200 hours from RD-33's 4000 hours. However, China already has an engine similar to the RD-93, the Guizhou WS-13 currently installed on the JF-17 prototype displayed and flown during Paris Air Show 2015, which has the same thrust and size of the Russian RD-93. Currently, China's Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corporation is working on an improved variant named WS-13A with 100KN of thrust for use on the J-31.

An even greater challenge for Shenyang and its suppliers to overcome is fitting the aircraft with electronic systems that merge the inputs from various sensors to give the pilot situational awareness. 

AVICS's states that the aircraft will offer capability “almost equivalent” to the latest U.S. fighter suggests that it aims to go some way in that direction. But the question is How? Even though one develops a network centric warfare suit for such aircraft, eventually they would need to run on complex global navigation system and China’s own BeiDou Navigation Satellite System which consists of two separate satellite constellations – a limited test system that has been operating since 2000, and a full-scale global navigation system is still under construction, so the global deployment is still requires quite good number of years.  So, in faster deployment of such system for global reach - China need to bank upon Russia's GLONASS. And, let's us not forget, Russia will not come cheap when it comes to sell their encrypted Navigation bandwidth to the so called buyers of China's J-31. 

J-31 is indeed a great airplane with eye-candy feature like evident radar cross section (RCS) reduction features, including a blended fuselage and diverterless supersonic inlets (DSI), but it still needs a self sustaining combat control and monitoring eco-system specifically designed for those countries who are intend to invest in such platforms and what China can offer (as of now) is just a technology platform, on which the export buyers need to scale up by purchasing off-the shelf warfare suits from other countries, eventually overall acquisition cost of such system will go high along with the inter-operability costs. The question is who can afford it? Even though, the countries which are interested at this point may buy J-31 in few numbers for mere display of force projection. In war, projection might give one a boost-cum-assurance for a moment, but at the end a fighter has to do what a fighter is intend to do.