The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) state-owned and -operated Aviation Industry Corporation of China (Avic) presented a full line of its products and plans for further expansion of its export markets at last month’s Aviation Expo China exhibition, which was held in the Chinese capital, Beijing. The centerpiece of the Avic display was a line-up of models of those military aircraft programs that the conglomerate has been permitted to make public.
The most conspicuous of them was a smaller-scale version of a twin-engine, stealthy-looking design that Avic has dubbed the “Advanced Fighter Concept” or AFC, but which appears to be the fighter that has been variously labeled J-31, Project 310, Falcon Hawk and F-60. It is produced at the Shenyang Aircraft Works in Liaoning Province. During the expo one of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) official commentators, Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong, told the state-run People’s Daily newspaper that the J-31 was never built with China’s military in mind, and it was not likely that it would be built in a carrier-capable variant.
The goal of the program is to compete in the export market against the U.S.-built Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Aircraft design analysts familiar with the Chinese program state that both aircraft are designed to use materials and shapes that would give the aircraft a low radar cross section (RCS), and that both feature the same type of inlet design that precludes the use of a boundary layer diverter.
Conspicuous by its absence was the other stealthy combat aircraft program being flight-tested in the PRC, the Chengdu J-20. No mention has been made of the program in any official marketing materials or exhibition placards, and specialists from Chengdu Aerospace and Aircraft Plant No. 132 will not even confirm the existence of the project.
As one western diplomat based in Beijing pointed out, “The Chinese continue this same game of having one program for PLA use only that is cloaked in endless layers of secrecy, and then having a second program that is strictly for export. The pattern has basically been set with the [Chengdu] J-10, which is just for the PLA, and the JF-17/FC-1 program for Pakistan. The aim here is to continue on the same path now with a pair of next-generation fighter aircraft.”
Like the programs that preceded them, both the J-20 and J-31 seem to be at least initially dependent upon Russian-made jet engines. The PLAAF has reportedly been interested in purchasing the Saturn 117S engine that powers the Sukhoi Su-35 and T-50/PAK-FA fighters for the J-20, while the J-31 has flown initially with a set of the Klimov RD93 engines used in the JF-17.