China’s FC-31 takes on the Su-57 and poses a threat to the F-35

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American defense analysts are closely monitoring China’s latest fifth-generation stealth fighter, the FC-31. While Russia’s Su-57 has struggled to gain the full confidence of Western observers, the FC-31 is perceived as a credible threat to the American F-35, despite its lack of combat experience. 

Photo by Hunter Chen

In a commentary, Brandon J. Weichert mentions that Beijing’s progress with this technology puts it in direct competition with the Russian Su-57 on the global stage, offering what might be a more cost-effective option. Although the FC-31 hasn’t yet seen battle, its development marks a substantial leap in China’s air superiority and strike capabilities. 

Experts currently emphasize that much hinges on available opportunities. The Russian Su-57 and Chinese J-20 were initially developed as counterparts to America’s F-22 Raptor. Today, not only the USA but also Russia, Turkey, South Korea, and China are advancing in the fifth-generation stealth fighter race. This has spurred Europe and the USA to begin developing sixth-generation fighters.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

War will overtake NGAD

Experts agree that developing a sixth-generation fighter will span this decade and the next. So, what if a conflict erupts between China and the US? In that scenario, aircraft like the F-22, F-35, Su-57, and J-20, which have been heavily analyzed, would take center stage. However, the lesser-known FC-31 could become a significant threat, holding potential until proven in combat.  

The FC-31, crafted by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, is a twin-engine, single-seat stealth fighter. Designed to enhance the People’s Liberation Army Air Force [PLAAF] with cutting-edge air superiority and strike capabilities, this aircraft is currently at the prototype stage.  

Photo credit: Pixabay

If the J-20 can be seen as China’s counterpart to the American F-22, then the FC-31 stands as China’s response to the F-35. Much like the F-35, China plans various versions of the FC-31, including a naval variant set to operate from its expanding fleet of aircraft carriers.

About FC-31

The information below comes mainly from Chinese media. So, it might be true, or it might just be propaganda. No one can confirm what China is saying yet. The Chinese FC-31 stealth fighter, also known as the J-31 or Gyrfalcon, is a fifth-generation multi-role fighter aircraft made by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. It is designed to be less detectable by radar and other detection systems, making it stealthy. The FC-31 can be used for both air battles and ground attacks, making it very versatile. 

Photo credit: Reddit

The size of the FC-31 is impressive for a medium-sized fighter. It is about 16.9 meters [55.4 feet] long, has a wingspan of around 11.5 meters [37.7 feet], and is about 4.8 meters [15.7 feet] tall. These dimensions help it to be agile and flexible for different missions. 

The FC-31 has two engines, which could be either Russian RD-93 engines or Chinese WS-13 engines. These engines give it the power needed for high-speed moves and supersonic flight. The thrust varies depending on the engine type but is generally between 84 to 100 kN [kilonewtons] per engine.

Avionics and radar

Photo credit: Aviation Week

The FC-31 can take off with a maximum weight of around 28,000 kilograms [61,729 pounds] and can fly at speeds up to Mach 1.8 [1,381 mph or 2,222 km/h]. It has an internal weapons bay for stealth missions but also includes external hardpoints for additional weapons if stealth isn’t necessary. 

This aircraft comes with advanced tech like a glass cockpit with multifunction displays [MFDs] and a helmet-mounted display [HMD] system. These features help the pilot stay aware and provide crucial flight and combat info in real time. It also has a fly-by-wire [FBW] control system for better handling and stability during difficult maneuvers. 

The avionics and radar of the FC-31 are built to detect and track enemy targets well. It’s believed to have an active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, which offers better range, resolution, and defense against electronic jamming compared to older radar systems. This radar allows the FC-31 to find and engage multiple targets at once. 

Photo credit: Aviation Week

The fire control systems of the FC-31 work together with its avionics and radar for precise targeting and weapon use. These include advanced targeting pods and infrared search and track [IRST] systems, making them effective against both air and ground targets. The fire control systems support a variety of weapons, making the aircraft versatile in combat. 

FC-31 weapons

The FC-31 is capable of carrying a variety of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, precision-guided bombs, and unguided munitions. Specific weapons include the PL-10 and PL-15 air-to-air missiles, as well as the KD-88 air-to-ground missile. The aircraft’s internal weapons bay and external hardpoints allow it to carry a significant payload while maintaining its stealth characteristics when necessary. 

Photo credit: Aviation Week

The operational range of the FC-31 is estimated to be around 1,200 kilometers [746 miles] without external fuel tanks. With the addition of external fuel tanks, the range can be extended significantly, allowing the aircraft to conduct longer-range missions. The FC-31’s range, combined with its stealth and advanced avionics, makes it a formidable platform for modern aerial warfare.

Who says what?

When it comes to Moscow, China’s new FC-31 warplane isn’t bringing any joy. Along with other military advances, the FC-31 means China will likely buy less military gear from Russia, a country that increasingly depends on trade with China. 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

China aims to make the FC-31 a cheaper fifth-generation fighter jet compared to the American F-35 or the Russian Su-57. If global militaries start choosing Beijing for these advanced fighter jets, both Russia and the USA could suffer significant losses. 

The Russians say their Su-57 is much better than the FC-31, but this hasn’t been proven yet. The FC-31 hasn’t been used in real combat. Even though Russia calls its conflict with Ukraine an “existential struggle,” it hasn’t shown off powerful systems like the Su-57 in battle. Instead, Moscow seems reluctant to risk these expensive systems in combat, choosing to keep them out of the fight. This might not be a good move if they want to sell the Su-57 as a cheaper alternative to the American F-35. Experts warn that ignoring China’s latest stealth fighter could be a mistake. “Underestimate China at your peril,” says Weichert.

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