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China’s J-31B Gyrfalcon stealth aircraft debuts with advanced tech

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BULGARIAN MILITARY

The Shenyang Aircraft Corporation [SAC], a major Chinese defense company, has released a video showcasing their latest fifth-generation fighter jet, the J-31B. The video shows a computer-generated image of the J-31B from the front, labeled “J-31B” and called “Gyrfalcon.” The jet features side weapon bays, each with two missiles.

Initially called the FC-31 for export, this medium-sized stealth fighter has been known as the J-31 or J-35 in Chinese media. This recent video officially names it the J-31B. For months, this jet has been catching the eyes, especially for its potential on aircraft carriers. Compared to the original FC-31, introduced a decade ago, the J-31B looks larger and more advanced.

The video suggests that the J-31B competes with heavy fighters regarding payload capacity. It also shines in design, space use, and engine performance. Notably, the J-31B’s side weapon bays can carry at least two missiles. This sets it apart from the US F-22 Raptor and China’s J-20, which can only take one missile per side. In addition, it has a main weapon bay like the J-20, which can hold at least four PL-12 medium-range air-to-air missiles.

Chinese Stealth Goes Operational, Carrier Program and Export Initiatives Accelerate
© A new carrier-based variant of the developmental J-31 may be in the works. (Photo: O+Nil)

Its role?

Chinese experts, as reported by the South China Morning Post, note that moving from the FC-31 to the J-31 shows it is ready for military use and has received an official designation. Despite these advancements, there are still questions about the J-31B’s exact role and use. Fu Qianshao, a military analyst from Beijing and retired PLA Air Force equipment expert suggests that the “B” might indicate different versions of the J-31.

However, we still don’t know if this B variant will be designed for carriers, land missions, or the export market. Another expert believes the J-31B is more likely to join the PLA Air Force instead of the Navy, based on the single-wheeled front landing gear shown in the video, which is typical for land-based aircraft.

China's J-31 stealth fighter may fly in Pakistan, replacing the F-16
Photo by Hunter Chen

The official launch of the J-31B shows how much progress China has made in military aviation, highlighting its growth in stealth fighter technology. As we continue to evaluate and modify the J-31B, its future role in China’s defense will become clearer.

Beware of stealth

Originally designed as a stealth fighter for China’s People’s Liberation Army [PLA] and for export, the FC-31/J-35 has seen many changes since its first flight in 2012. Introduced at the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show, this aircraft is often compared to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II because of its advanced features.

China's J-31 stealth fighter may fly in Pakistan, replacing the F-16
Photo credit: Chinese Internet

Lately, the FC-31/J-35 has gained a lot of attention because it can be used on aircraft carriers. People believe that different versions of the J-35 might be used on the PLA Navy’s newest and most advanced carrier, the Fujian, which has electromagnetic catapult systems.

But, recent tests of a J-35 model on the Liaoning aircraft carrier with ‘ski jump’ ramps suggest that it might also be adapted for older carriers. Last month, sources reported that China is also working on a land-based version of the FC-31/J-35 stealth fighter. Photos of the new model show many design changes from the carrier-based J-35, suggesting ongoing development and possible sales to other countries.

Markets?

China's J-31B Gyrfalcon stealth aircraft debuts with advanced tech
Video screenshot

China’s international efforts to market the FC-31 have also picked up speed. In January 2024, Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu announced plans to buy the FC-31 to upgrade its air force. This deal was promoted by Chinese media as a successful partnership, which could help Chinese aircraft enter the international market.

Earlier this year, China displayed a model of the FC-31 jet at the World Defence Show in Saudi Arabia. A Chinese official at the event said the FC-31 was not yet part of the PLA Air Force but would be soon.

The induction of the J-31 would make China the second country, after the US, to field two types of stealth aircraft. The J-20 fighter jets would complement the J-31, possibly working alongside the J-15 as a carrier-based aircraft. China’s participation in the Saudi defense show also indicated a marketing effort toward Middle Eastern countries, with the UAE appearing as a potential future buyer.

This follows a stalled deal during Donald Trump’s presidency, where the UAE had agreed to buy 50 F-35s from the US in exchange for establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. The pause in the deal came after President Joe Biden took office in 2021. He was worried about the UAE’s ties with China and the chance that technology might be leaked. So, showing off the J-31B is a big step for China’s stealth fighter abilities. Its progress and rising global interest show Beijing’s commitment to enhancing its military strength and export opportunities.

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