Four in a Row: China’s Stealth Fighter Fleet Grows Again
In July 2016, the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation rolled out two more low rate initial production (LRIP) J-20 stealth fighters. This brings to a total of four J-20 fighters built for service into the Chinese air force, as opposed to the original eight J-20 prototypes, which are still undergoing a rigorous flight testing regimen. At this rate of production, China may have 12 production J-20 ready to hand off to a PLAAF squadron for operational and flight familiarization, with an initial operating capability (IOC — meaning those fighters can conduct combat operations) in 2017-2018.
The two newest J-20 fighters are painted with a very dark grey paint job, along with new low visibility PLAAF insignias on the lower fuselage, beneath the wings. If the J-20 meets its 2017-2018 IOC target date, it will give China a technological edge in air to air combat over all its Asian neighbors, who do not yet have 5th generation planes. As a heavyweight stealth fighter, it is armed with long range missiles, electronic warfare, advanced radar and passive sensors, making it a respectable competitor to even the new US F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. CAC is already planning a series of future updates to keep the J-20 state of art; domestic WS-15 engines are just one of them.
Fighter on a Truck
Images have also shown that the second J-31/FC-31 prototype is being transported on Chinese highways, similar to the transportation of the first J-31 prototype in the summer of 2012. The fighter was moved from the Shenyang factory to a testing range in another part of China. China’s second fifth generation fighter, the J-31 is a twin engine, medium weight stealth fighter built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. It is undergoing testing, while waiting for firm domestic and export orders. A display floor model of an improved J-31, with a larger fuselage, improved indigenous engines, stealthier features and improved sensors, was prominently displayed at the Zhuhai 2014 Airshow. The second J-31 prototype, incorporating those improvements, is expected to make its first flight soon, if it already hasn’t done so. A first flight of the improved J-31, just in time for the 2016 Zhuhair Airshow, would greatly improve its sales prospects at home and aboard.
A New Bird
With two stealth fighters soon to enter service, China is making another critical step in becoming a 21st century air superpower. And as Chinese defense exports grow, the J-20 and J-31 could start making the rounds at foreign airshows, and possibly even in foreign air forces.
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