China’s FC-31 Fighter May Be Slated for Carrier Ops

 - February 23, 2017, 3:31 AM
A second prototype of the FC-31 has flown at Shenyang. (Image: Chinese Internet)

Following the first flight of a second Shenyang FC-31 prototype, on December 23 last year, there are now discussions within the Chinese media that the improved aircraft might be slated for operations on the new Chinese carrier fleet. The aircraft has been named the “Gryfalcon.”

The second prototype is similarly configured to the model that was displayed at China's Zhuhai Airshow last November. It features some common design elements to the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter, such as cropped vertical stabilizers. It also has an Electro Optic Targeting Sight (EOTS) under the nose. In an interview on Chinese television, military analyst Chen Hu said that it is not surprising to see elements of the J-20 on the FC-31, since both jets are being developed by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AIVC).

A new scale model of the FC-31 on display in the Shenyang Aviation Museum carries Chinese naval insignia, further hinting at a planned carrier capability for the aircraft. The museum is owned by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. Like most carrier-borne aircraft, the FC-31 has a twin nose gear, and it was recently reported that the third Chinese aircraft carrier would be fitted with three steam catapults.

Chen also noted that the smaller and lighter footprint of the FC-31 gives it an advantage on a carrier’s limited deck space. Moreover, Shenyang would have an advantage over other Chinese aerospace companies, because of its experience in adapting the Su-27 for Chinese naval use as the J-15.

Specifications revealed at the Zhuhai Airshow suggest that the length of the Gryfalcon has increased from 16.8 meters to 17.5 meters. The maximum takeoff weight has increased by three tonnes to 28 tonnes. In addition, the wheel wells of the second prototype are significantly smaller, allowing for a larger internal weapons bay, capable of accommodating up to 8 tonnes of armaments.

The aircraft was originally powered by the Russian-supplied Klimov R-93 turbofans, but Chinese analysts have noted that the latest test flight did not produce the thick exhaust smoke seen in earlier flights. This suggests that the second FC-31 has new powerplants.

The FC-31 is self-funded by Shenyang, which is hoping to export it. The current list price for the Chinese is at $70 million, significantly lower than the F-35A Lightning II. In 2014, Pakistan’s defense production minister Rana Tanveer Hussain stated his country’s interest in procuring 30-40 FC-31. Discussions have since reportedly advanced beyond the initial phase.

Comments

Both the Chengdu J-20 and the Shenyang J-15 (developed from Ukrainian Su-33) are also intended for carrier operation using electromagnetic catapults.

China is not developing steam catapults. The electromagnetic catapult has already successfully passed live tests with the J-15. Whether the bow ramp is retained once these catapults are in service is an unresolved question?

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