Chinese J-31 stealth fighter for global market, Pakistan likely customer - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 12 November 2012

Chinese J-31 stealth fighter for global market, Pakistan likely customer

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Nov 12

Two weeks after China’s new J-31 stealth fighter made its debut flight on Oct 31, it will be officially acknowledged with a mock-up of the aircraft in Airshow China, the Beijing-endorsed air show that opens in Zhuhai, China on Tuesday. With China’s official media reporting that the J-31 will be sold to overseas customers, Indian analysts say that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) might be one of the earliest customers of the J-31.

The English-language newspaper Global Times, which is owned by the Communist Party of China (CPC) cites Bai Wei, former editor of the Aviation World Monthly as saying, “Currently the only fifth generation fighter available for sale is the F-35 by the US. The ‘J-31’ will offer an alternative for non-traditional allies of the US.”

The leakage of photos of the J-31 debut flight, which analysts regard as deliberate, had triggered speculation that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) had built that aircraft for the international market, creating a rival for Lockheed Martin’s long delayed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Aviation experts assess that the J-31 would also need 7-10 years to enter operational service

Indian analysts, including Pushpindar Singh of the Society for Aerospace Studies, point out that the PAF’s preference for Chinese fighter aircraft make it likely that it would acquire the J-31 as soon as the fighter is ready for operational service.

“Already, the backbone of the PAF is made up of Chinese fighters like the JF-17 Thunder, the J-10 and the F-7. It is close to certain that Pakistan would also opt for at least two squadrons of the J-31, given that the US is unlikely to allow it into the F-35 partnership,” says Pushpindar Singh.

Indian analysts believe the PAF will emerge as a 23-squadron air force by 2020, with its backbone consisting of 12-13 squadrons of the JF-17 light fighter. While the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and the Chengdu Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAC) have ostensibly developed the JF-17 jointly, analysts believe that most of the development was done by CAC. The PAF already operates four squadrons of the JF-17, which is part-built in Pakistan and China.

In 2020, the PAF would also have four squadrons of Lockheed Martin F-16s, two squadrons of the J-10 from CAC, and three squadrons of older Chinese F-7TGs.

The close relationship between the PLAAF and the PAF is evident from the presence at the Zhuhai Air Show of three PAF JF-17 fighters, which will be flying displays during the show.

Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is currently down to 34 squadrons, with which it must defend both the Pakistan and the China borders. By 2017, the fourteen IAF squadrons that fly MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters would also have been disbanded, and replaced by just 4 new squadrons of Sukhoi-30MKI fighters.

“With the procurement of the Dassault Rafale fighter also running late, the IAF will be facing what can only be described as a crisis in 2017,” says Pushpindar Singh.

Airshow China will also feature, for the first time ever, China’s new WZ-10 attack helicopter, which will be capable of flying anti-tank and anti-aircraft missions, fielding a payload of rockets, missiles and a rapid-fire cannon. Like in every China-built fighter aircraft, the five-tonne helicopter will be powered by a foreign engine.

The air show at Zhuhai will also feature a new Chinese long-range ground-to-air missile called the FD-2000.


  1. 'Like in every China-built fighter aircraft, the five-tonne helicopter will be powered by a foreign engine. '

    wrong info...the prototype of Z10 used to use the engine from Canada...but all SPs(including the one in your post) are using the homemade WZ9 engine..

  2. Two corrections. 1. J-10 is not in PAF service and no contract has been signed yet. 2. As of November 2012 only three squadrons are operational with JF-17. 4th Sqn is in the works.

  3. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)13 November 2012 at 08:43

    Ajai ji,

    See, I had already told you this in comments on your previous post....

    Let our defense minister, babus and our politicians sleep...You cannot wake up modern day Kumbhakarnas from their sleep....You need to get rid of them while they are sleeping....

  4. If PAF gets J31, they will try for another operation chengis khan & this time India will get annihilated.

  5. So they are able to develop a stealth engine for J-31. Really suprised how fast china is advancing compared to any othe country in the world, this is really superfast.
    Thats why we Indians need to concentrate more on Research & Development instead of buying and there is nothing wrong in reverse engineering too, looking at our threat level.

  6. @ shearven

    I've read claims to that effect, but I've also read credible accounts that the engine remains foreign for the immediate future. For example:

    But I'd be happy to read better data if you could post it.


  7. @ Anonymous 21:57

    You're absolutely correct, the fourth JF-17 squadron is still under raising. I (perhaps not strictly accurately) counted that as a squadron that the PAF operates. But I take your point.

    You're also correct that the J-10 contract has not yet been signed. I believe, however, that the decision to do so has been taken and it is, for planning purposes, a done deal.

    Thanks for holding me to greater standards of accuracy. Much appreciated.


  8. I'll be very surprised if the J-31 is
    ready for export before 2020 at the earliest !
    The Chinese have been struggling with power-plant design issues for well over a decade. The Western engine manufacturer's will not license their
    designs for fear of them being reverse engineered in due course, neither are the Russians keen on technology transfer at this point.
    So, with the lack of a credible engine to talk about, this thing is
    not going to see the light of day anytime soon !
    Secondly, the Russian defence media is abuzz with the Chinese purportedly keen on signing a deal to acquire the Su-35 ! What is the need for that if they have the J-31 and the J-20 available right around the corner may I ask ? Understood that the J-20 is more of a strategic fighter bomber rather than a air dominance fighter, the J-31 is definitely fits that profile.
    I have reasons to doubt the capabilities on display north of the border. It could well be smoke and mirrors !

  9. China's hawking of J-31 to Pakistan should not be yet another excuse for India to purchase some 5th gen fighter (like F-35, or more numbers of PAK-FA).

    See, India can only be an observer as other sovereign nations make defence deals. It couldn't stop Russia from indirectly exporting RD-93 engines for PAF's JF-17 fleet.

    So, to make itself strong India must reduce the dependence on foreign hardware drastically.

    The IAF must expedite the AMCA's development by adopting global best practices in program management. Only if we make ourselves strong will such news items not have any effect. IAF should NOT make yet another knee-jerk purchase of say, F-35 or more PAK-FAs or Su-35 or what not (hope that NEVER happens, and AMCA gets off soon) !

  10. the 'foreign engine' on Z10 PT used to be PT6C-67C...a 1250 KW level engine....which is imported and used on AC313 civilian helicopter.

    currently the WZ9 engine on Z10 has the max power of around 1000 KW ... 25% less power, which made the R&D team do a great job to reduce the weight in order to keep the maneuvering performance....

    but a new engine will come. the WZ16 engine fitted on Z15 helicopter will make the maiden flight in 2013(this news revealed on Airshow China 2012). WZ16 is at the same class as the PT6C-67C ,with a power at around 1200-1500Kw.


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