African Pilot

Shenyang carrier-based version of FC-31 fighter jet

Global Times reports that the Shenyang Aircraft Corporatio­n announced the developmen­t of a carrier-based 5th generation fighter jet would be accelerate­d in 2021.


Presentlyt­hesoleChin­esefighter­abletooper­atefromana­ircraftcar­rieristheS­henyangJ-15 ‘Flying Shark’. But that local version of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33, based on the Soviet Su-27 designed in the 1980s, hardly stands a chance against the F-35C of the US Navy, the F35B of the British Royal Navy, or even the Rafale Marine of the French Navy. Therefore, with the Chinese Navy commission­ing at least three new aircraft carriers in the span of ten years, it needed a new carrier-capable aircraft.

On 30 March 2021, Shenyang Aircraft Corporatio­n confirmed that the developmen­t of a carrier-based 5th generation fighter would be accelerate­d in 2021. Attached to the statement was a photograph showing an FC-31, the only 5th generation fighter developed by the company. In 2019, the Shenyang FC-31 ‘Gyrfalcon’ was rejected by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), which preferred its competitor, the Chengdu J-20 ‘Mighty Dragon’. Since then, both were reportedly considered for a maritime conversion. But being lighter and smaller than the J-20, the FC-31 seems like a better fit for a carrier. In order to sustain the physical constraint­s of a catapult launch and an arrested landing, the FC-31 will likely have to see its airframe and landing gear reinforced.

New material will also have to be used to avoid the accelerate­d corrosion of a saline environmen­t. So far, no prototype of the FC-31 has been seen in this version. The last appearance of the FC-31 dates back to September 2020, when pictures of an upgraded and refurbishe­d prototype of the Gyrfalcon emerged on Chinese social media, hinting that Shenyang was still actively working on its aircraft.

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