China’s latest stealth fighter prototype could be deployed aboard the Chinese navy’s first aircraft carrier, eventually allowing Beijing to deploy radar-evading warplanes all over the world — although it’ll have to overcome some serious constraints.
The twin-engine J-31, which made its public debut in blurry photographs snapped at the Shenyang Aircraft Company airfield in northeastern China in late October, “may become China’s next generation carrier-borne fighter jet,” according to the government-owned Global Times newspaper. “News” from China’s state media, including Global Times, essentially can be read as official announcements.
But Sun Cong, the J-31′s chief designer, implied that the new stealth jet will need to be enhanced to become carrier-compatible, according to Global Times. In other words, the J-31 won’t be headed to sea any time soon, however much Chinese state media signals the rising power’s interest in taking its stealth jet out to the open water.
In any event, the prospect of a maritime future for the J-31 places China in rarefied company. Of the dozen or so countries that possess flattops, only a handful are developing carrier-based stealth warplanes; and none have deployed them yet. The U.S. Navy is working on the F-35C ship-compatible version of the Joint Strike Fighter; the U.K. and Italy are also acquiring F-35s for their carriers — in their cases, the vertical-landing B-model of the next-generation jet that the U.S. Marines will use.