STEALTH TO THE SKIES
The 10-minute maiden test flight of China’s newest stealth fighter jet, the J-31, sparked intense debate among the world’s weapons and intelligence communities. That’s because little is known about the aircraft, which China boasts is the only other fifthgeneration stealth light combat aircraft in the world after the U.S. Air Force F-35.
On Oct. 31, the Shenyang J-31, also known as the Falcon Eagle, took off after some high-speed runway taxiing. It was accompanied by two of China’s J-11 fighter jets.
Video clips released by Chinese authorities indicate that the J-31 is a twin-engine, midsized fighter jet with a stealth design similar to that of the F-35. It, too, has forward-swept engineintake cowls and is significantly smaller than China’s first stealth combat aircraft, the much-touted Chengdu J-20.
The released videos also show dense smoke trailing from the aircraft, a sign of incomplete burning of fuel.
International attention has focused on two major issues surrounding the J-31. First, China appears to have encountered major technical problems in developing its own jet engines for combat aircraft. Many analysts think the J-31 is powered by a Russiandesigned engine known as the Klimov RD-93.
A second issue is the mission of the J-31, with China facing international embarrassment over its inability to deploy carrier-based planes aboard its much-glorified aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was commissioned in late September.
Design features of the J-31 suggest that the aircraft is being considered for use on the Liaoning. It is significantly lighter than the J-20. It also has a twin-engine power plant, twin forward wheels and rear wheels that are in “the kneeling position,” as analysts describe the feature used on most carrier-based aircraft.
The timing of the J-31’s unveiling has a political dimension, many analysts say, because the aircraft was flown for the first time days before the major 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress, which opened Nov. 7.
It is a normal practice for the People’s Liberation Army to showcase major accomplishments as contributions to the