Shenyang Aircraft Corporation Unveils Details of New Chinese J-31B Fifth-Generation Fighter (2024)

On July 1, 2024, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) released a video revealing the new J-31B "Gyrfalcon" stealth fighter. The J-31B appears significantly larger than the original FC-31 model, which was first introduced a decade ago, evolving from a medium to a heavy fighter. It is equipped with side weapon bays, each capable of carrying two combat missiles. This fifth-generation medium-sized stealth fighter has been independently developed by SAC. Follow Army Recognition on Google News at this link

The FC-31 Gyrfalcon, a prototype twin-engine multirole fighter, was initially developed privately by SAC for potential export after the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLA) endorsed Chengdu Aerospace Corporation's J-20 (Picture source: Shenyang Aircraft Corporation)

Xiaoyang Video has confirmed that this aircraft is officially named the J-31B. The footage shows the front side of the aircraft marked with "J-31B," and a close-up of the side weapon bay labeled "weapon bay," containing two missiles.

The video provides significant information about the side weapon bay design of the J-31B. This indicates that the J-31B has a payload capacity comparable to heavy fighters, excelling in structural optimization, space utilization, and engine performance. The J-31B can carry at least two missiles in its side weapon bays. Combined with a main weapon bay similar to that of the J-20, the J-31B can carry at least four PL-12 medium-range air-to-air missiles. If the main weapon bay is replaced with ground or anti-ship weapons, it will not only possess the capability for stealthy approach and aerial bombing but also form a multi-role fifth-generation fighter with stealth, situational awareness, and all-domain offensive capabilities, capable of performing various missions.

Additionally, the J-31B's side weapon bay adopts a "single-door" design, consistent with China's current heavy stealth fighter, the J-20. In 2018, the J-20 demonstrated its full weapon load during an air show by fully opening its main (underbelly) and side weapon bays (side of the aircraft). Compared to the F-22's "double-door" side weapon bay design, the J-20's single-door design allows the bay door to close after the missile is deployed, leaving only the missile exposed. This reduces the impact on the fighter's stealth performance and aerodynamic shape. The different design details lead to varied air combat modes between the F-22 and the J-20.

The J-31B has a payload capacity comparable to heavy fighters, excelling in structural optimization, space utilization, and engine performance (Picture source: Shenyang Aircraft Corporation )

Chinese military expert Song Xinzhi explained on a CCTV program that opening the weapon bay of a stealth fighter affects its stealth performance, increasing the likelihood of radar detection. The unique design of the J-20 minimizes this disadvantage as much as possible.

The FC-31 Gyrfalcon, a prototype twin-engine multirole fighter, was initially developed privately by SAC for potential export after the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLA) endorsed Chengdu Aerospace Corporation's J-20. Both fighters are stealth-capable, making China and the United States the only nations with two such aircraft (the U.S. flies the F-22 and F-35).

The FC-31 is intended to be carrier-based, significantly extending the reach of the People's Republic of China (PRC) with modern stealth fighter jets. Still in development, little is known about its capabilities. When revealed in 2012, only a model was shown to the public. Two years later, the aircraft was featured at the Zhuhai Airshow. The FC-31 is slightly smaller than the J-20 and features an internal weapons bay for carrying missiles.

Externally, the FC-31 has six hardpoints capable of carrying various weapons, with a total payload of up to 8,000 kg, including bombs and missiles. It is powered by two Klimov RD-93 turbofans, the same engines used in the Russian MiG-29, providing a combat radius of about 1,200 km with a takeoff weight of 25,400 kg. It can reach speeds of up to Mach 1.8 (approximately 2,200 km/h) with a maximum non-combat range of 4,000 km.

The FC-31 is also coated with a stealth covering, making it difficult to detect by radar. Once added to the PLA Navy's inventory, the FC-31 will be capable of various missions, including air defense, air superiority, air policing, reconnaissance, nuclear deterrence, close air support, anti-ship attacks, air-to-ground precision strikes, and air-to-air refueling.

As SAC continues to refine the design, the FC-31 will undergo several modifications. The plan is to equip the aircraft with the Guizhou WS-19 turbofan engine, comparable to the J-20's engine. Western analysts believe the FC-31 matches existing fourth-generation fighters, such as the F-15, F-16, and F/A-18, but may not yet compete with fifth-generation fighters.

This could change if the PRC produces enough aircraft and equips them with comparable radars, sensors, and weapons. With enough time, well-trained pilots, and maintenance resources, the FC-31 could become one of the world's premier fighter aircraft. However, only time will tell how the PRC develops the program.

Several nations have expressed interest in acquiring the FC-31 when it becomes available. In January 2023, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Asim Munir, showed interest in procuring foreign-made aircraft, including the legendary C-130 and the JC-31 stealth fighter. In addition to exports, further development may see the JC-31 added to one of the nation's three aircraft carriers.

Shenyang Aircraft Corporation Unveils Details of New Chinese J-31B Fifth-Generation Fighter (2024)

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