New Chinese stealth fighter heightens dilemma for Indian Navy - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 9 November 2012

New Chinese stealth fighter heightens dilemma for Indian Navy

Has China copied the J-31 (above and centre) from the F-35 (below)? In 2009, Lockheed Martin reported the loss of design documents from the computers of six contractors

by Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 10th Nov 12 

Was last week’s inaugural flight of China’s second stealth fighter linked to the ongoing 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party? Was President Hu Jintao demonstrating his relationship with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), a powerful lever for elevating his protégés to the apex Politburo Standing Committee?

Several unanswered questions surround the Oct 31 debut of the J-31 Shenyang fighter, which the pathologically secretive PLA took unusual pains to publicize. Having already unveiled the J-20 Chengdu stealth fighter in Jan 2011, China is the only country that is developing two separate stealth fighters. The US is developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, albeit in three versions; Russia is working on a single design, the PAK-FA, to which India has hitched its wagon. Separately, Japan is developing the ATD-X demonstrator.

Other intriguing questions include: Given the J-31’s close resemblance to the US F-35 fighter, has China reverse-engineered it from blueprints that Lockheed Martin had reported stolen in 2009 from the computers of six American aerospace subcontractors? Is the J-31 for export only, which would explain the publicity that the PLA is giving it? Or will the PLA use the J-31 as an air superiority fighter while the larger J-20 strikes ground targets, an allocation of roles that mirrors the employment of the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 by the US Air Force? Or is the F-31 a competitor to the J-20, with the better of the two designs destined to go into production?

But the question that most worries the Indian Navy is: does the sturdy landing gear that experts have spotted on the J-31 indicate that the new fighter will operate from Chinese aircraft carriers, giving the PLA Navy, or PLA(N) an aerial combat capability that would outmuscle India’s in the Indian Ocean?

China is focusing keenly on naval air power. Just a month ago China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, had joined the PLA(N) fleet. The 58,500-tonne Liaoning --- bought as scrap from Ukraine for a floating casino, but then renovated in Dalian shipyard into an operational carrier --- is the PLA(N)’s first attempt at learning the complex skills of aircraft carrier operations. This is difficult learning. The US Navy lost some 12,000 aircraft and 8,500 airmen from 1949-1988 in developing its naval aviation skills. But Indian planners believe that the Chinese will learn quickly, especially when the Liaoning is joined by more modern aircraft carriers that are already being built in China.

Indian Navy planners tell Business Standard that the PLA(N)’s three-pronged process --- learning aircraft carrier operations; building one or two modern carriers; and inducting the J-31 --- could take a decade or more. But after that, PLA(N) aircraft carrier battle groups could operate in the Indian Ocean, fielding fighters that are superior to India’s.

The Indian Navy’s 45 Russian MiG-29Ks, purchased for two new aircraft carriers, are capable fighters today, but would certainly be outclassed by the stealthy J-31 whenever it enters service. The navy’s new carriers --- the 44,000-tonne INS Vikramaditya that could join the fleet next year; and the unnamed, 40,000-tonne Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) that will be ready only by 2017 --- are both fitted with ski-jumps that are custom-built for the MiG-29K to take off.

If the navy wants a more capable fighter, e.g. the Dassault Rafale, which the Indian Air Force is buying, or the F-35C, which is the naval version of the Joint Strike Fighter, it will need an aircraft carrier with a catapult rather than a ski-jump. If the navy designs its second IAC (a 60,000-tonne vessel that is still being conceptualized) with a catapult on the flight deck, a 5th-generation stealth fighter could soon follow.

The navy has already signaled such an interest. In 2006, and again in 2007, New Delhi asked Lockheed Martin (which runs the F-35 programme) for briefings on the F-35B, a short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant that the US Marine Corps will fly off its smaller aircraft carriers called Landing Helicopter Docks. While the F-35B could operate from a ski-jump, the F-35C needs a catapult to propel it off the flight deck.

Will the J-31 push the navy towards more advanced fighters and a second IAC with catapult assited launch? All options remain on the table. Then naval chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, speaking in Delhi on Aug 7 shortly before he retired, did not rule out “having an entirely different carrier with a different complement of aircraft.”

That decision, however, would be a difficult one, keeping in mind that two carriers would already be fielding the MiG-29K, and a new fighter would complicate training and logistics.

“I can’t rule out anything or rule in anything. It is something at the concept stage and it will take a couple of years before we firm up our ideas on this,” said Admiral Verma.

The navy’s eyes will be focused on the Zhuhai Air Show, in China, in mid-November for more details that might emerge about China’s new stealth fighter.


  1. thieving... stealing... copying... espionage... cyber spying... whatever... target will simplify the path... have to admit...

  2. Arey yaar, now please Don't suggest India must buy the F-35 ! We've imported enough jets already !

  3. india should gear up AMCA project besous in 2020 only 5jen jet r use in warfr india should speedly make tajas in stelth veriation becoz he utilise in IAC ,VIKRAMATITYA BUT decippointing fact that in 10 year AMCA NOT UP IN THE DRIWING BOARD INDIA should incloud isrieal or viatnam for this project,stelth verson of tajas r whole answer for chines aggrision other side is china give j-31,j-20 pakistan and it misuse this techno. just like reccinision of corce china reccision india air defence capability in leh or north east so india revise stelth air defence just like rader india lease f-35 for evaluation.but all of this india HAL IS DELAY tajas amca

  4. We still pursue a reactive rather than a pro-active defense strategy. We procure our defense systems based on what China/Pakistan do rather then forcing them to do some head scratching about our procurement.

    And Secondly, the Chinese Defense industry should be a case study for us. We are struggling for 30 years to get a plane off the ground and be accepted and in less than 2 years they have gone ahead and shown 2 stealth fighters. Even the US has not been able to do so. The DRDO should use the Private Engineering Industries and IITs and other colleges to get things done. After all, I am pretty sure that we are just waiting to declare the LCA a misfit and go scouting for 20 years for a lighter fighter.

    No Country can be a power unless it can meet its defense needs on it own. And we need to start selling weapons to other nations if we really want to dominate.

  5. and we are still stuck at the LCA,and there is 20K cr budget reduction.. the babus are just "awesome"!!

  6. The only thing china can do is to copy. Looking in other way, why need to spend money in research for a already available product. We should learn from chinese, being loyal to money suckers who earn money by selling arms is not necessary.

  7. Do we have any sort of military strategy which takes into account the likely threat which our country will face after 20-25 years? All our training institutes keep talking and teaching that the military strategy flows from the grand strategy or the national strategy but an analysis of the events taking place around the world and a deeper understanding of what our leaders and generals talk reveals that these are just phrases that we have very nicely picked up from the western armies and we keep mouthing them without effecting them.

  8. Rahul Samanta(Kolkata)10 November 2012 at 09:35

    Ajai ji,

    Actually J-31 is rumoured to be the losing design from SAC, the winning design of SAC is getting developed. So it will definitely be exported, especially to PAF. So in that sense, China is building more than 2 stealth fighters. But it is not the only country that is developing 2 stealth fighters. That statement is wrong. India has FGFA and AMCA and also rumour called Tejas Mk3, US has F-22 and F-35. But one thing I am failing to understand. If J-31 is reverse engineered F-35, then how can it be an air-supeority fighter especially when the Lockheed's product primary role of a tactical bomber and a secondary role of fighter has been accepted and acknowledged....

    1. Nice comment Rahul. However, the PLA version may have a different purpose.....twin engine compared to single. Anyway you made me think we do have two 5g fighters in play (though one we seem to be a customer). Thanks for giving me pause. 10/4 out Pritesh
      Syd Australia

  9. well.. now we can understand the versatility of the chinese. people criticize them of coping, stealing and other vulgar shit.. but it has proved to particularly disheartening to see that india is going to be out classed and place as a bitch its own waters. it is time for MR shukla/broadsowrd to start writing articles criticizing DRDO and its organizations to become more inventive, imaginative and decisive in creating technologies that is homemade. AND STOP WRITING ARTICLES ENCOURAGING MILITARY PROCUREMENT FROM OTHER COUNTRIES. buying military equipment can only go so far as all countries have restrictions as inian growth is steadily droping for the past few years. i think reporters have to stop writing articles for views and report on indian lack luster performance in defense market, corruptions, laid back attitude and unimaginative approaches to problems. IOC for tejas is pathetic, Arjun program is a disaster, the akash system is being sequestered to limited quantities so military can buy from out side, nag is down the toilet, the new generation frigates is rusting in the ports of mumbai, indigenous aircraft carrier is pushed back few years, 5th generation both russian version and hal indigenous version is only in the drawing boards after 4 years, (LOL) the KAVERI engine is scrapped(NOW INDIA IS TOTALLY DEPENDENT on russian and usa) and finally my favorite INDIA NEEDS TO BUY RIFLES TO ARM THEIR ARMED FORCES.. PATHETIC.

  10. Any change of strategy can be properly defined only once it becomes certain whether the J-31 is for naval or air superiority or both.

  11. China has already shown its prowess in industrial espionage, reverse engineering with impunity to IP of others. Their political will is to be the sole super power in Asia. They have the clout of their trillion dollars economy which was foolishly assisted by the greedy US and EU industries. They are becoming richer by the day exporting everything all over the world at the expense of the same greedy nations.

    J-20 and J-31 being shown to the international community is not saber rattling but a clear indication to everyone including India that the Chinese mean to be the unchallenged super power in Asia. It is just a step short of becoming the rival to the US and Russia.

    India is still figuring out how to solve the problems delaying the induction of the Tejas mk1. The Tejas mk2 and mk3 versions are a good decade away. The Kaveri engine is not good enough for modern fighters. So the only good thing we have is basic knowledge in designing and building a 4th generation fighter.

    The real problem with India is the lamentable political will of the GOI and MOD into fast tracking projects that are critical to the defense of the country. India is REACTIVE in all its approach. It only starts to react when some country especially China and Pakistan has acquired something which could be used against India.

    The AMCA is still in its design stage. Nothing concrete has emerged from the drawing boards and even if it has been done, that does not mean the IAF would not delay its implementation with their penchant for asking for additional bells and whistles as and when they see in foreign defense journals. The 5th generation fighter project with Russia may become another Gorshkov. The Russians are not the friends that the USSR was.

    The Chinese Navy has recently demonstrated its submarine launched nuclear missile with a range in excess of 7000 miles. It is also building aircraft carriers with the necessary battle groups. The IN has only an obsolete aircraft carrier. The IAC is languishing in Kochi due to poor planning and management. The bigger IAC 2 is just a wet dream.
    The Vikrammaditya saga has become a never ending one. Yet the GOI and MOD seem to have placed all their eggs in the Russian basket!

    India and its scientists, engineers and technocrats have to wake up and take cognizance of the prevailing defense environment. It needs to think out of the box and come up with solutions rather than broadcasting empty promises to the gullible Indian masses about its non-existent military might.

    India needs leaders of vision to propel India to become the unchallenged leader at least in the IOR. The present one are pathetic.

  12. An interview of Mr. R.K.Tyagi Chairman, HAL has been published in the Nov'12 issue of the monthly house magazine of Air India.
    He informs the nation that more than 140 ALH Dhruvs have been produced upto 2011-2012.

    The deliveries of the ALH Dhruv, Helicopter started in January 2002.
    During the period of last ten years only 140 helicopters have been produced. This number indicates discouragement towards self reliance and obstacles for indigenous equipment and technology. The helicopter, which is one of the best in its class will never become a commercially successful product with manufacturing in such small numbers despite having huge backlog in supplies against confirmed Purchase Orders.
    Small quantity of HAL shares are going to be privatised. HAL will definitely become more accountable after that. But it is important that management of HAL informs the nation the reasons of delay in increasing the production capacity of this helicopter.
    The politicians, bureaucrats and some officers of armed forces are indulging in activities which forces our country to procure weapon systems of very high value from foreign countries.
    I request all concerned officials to set up an annual manufacturing capacity of 100 helicopters including ALH Dhruv, under development helicopter-LCH, LUH etc. It is also requested to expedite the development of the MCH.

  13. Looks Marketing effort for JSF-35 in India has now taken off..Thanks to Chineese J-31 (actually an empty box..does not have it's own engine ..forget the 5th Gen Avionics).
    American companies are best at using China's name and market their products thru Indian media.




  14. This is what happens when someone looks at the situation today to make a decision on purchasing or designing a fighter aircraft. So all the supporters of Rafael for MMRCA, how good was that decision, in terms of bang for your buck. Of course nothing beats making one at home. But we must buy one, we should have gone for the real battle proven platforms in F-18 or F-16, but those folks were heavily criticised, mostly for unfair reasons. These platforms provided the necessary technology at a much lower cost. The left over money could be used to beef-up the investments in the LCA, AMCA etc.

    Now we still do not have a contract for MMRCA, while China is flying their copy of an F-35. But, there is still time. Considering the American's are still perfecting their machine, what are the chances that China has built a better F-35 then the americans have. I am not willing to bet a single penny on that. However, what are the chances that AMCA will be more advance than the chinese aircraft of it's time, assuming that history will repeat for the Indian fighter programs, I am not so sure AMCA's of success.

    Who do you blame, the military as well as our babus. Military does not have a back-bone to ask for what they want. I still remember that after the trials in MMRCA, the Airforce made a comment that all (or most) were satisfactory so they will leave the decision to the MOD. This to me sounds like they want something, but are not willing to take the blame if the decision turns out to be a bad one. What our leaders in the govt. and the military need to do is to grow a spine and make a decision for the needs of the moment as well as think of the future. To me, our decision on MMRCA and other military plans, including Aircraft carriers, subs, etc. seems to underestimate our enemy. We always seem to be on a defense, our moves are designed to counter what our enemies make, rather than the other way around.

    Now, I expect a statement from IAF or MOD stating that the new development in China is not of any concern as our assets of now and the future take these Chinese plans into account. Which any resonable person would say this is just a load of bull's excreta.

  15. China actually has 3 5th Gen programs. Two of these are being run by CAC and one by SAC. CAC is also working on a single engine, medium tech aircraft. PAF currently are quite happy with JF17 and with the amount of attention they are getting from SAC/CAC, they might actually skip the J-10 altogether!!!

  16. When our J-20 and J-31 fighters sweep your Rafales, Sukhois and LCAs from the air in a future war, will your pilots scoff (as they float down on their parachutes) that these were copied from American technology?

  17. HAL's stratergy and Indian officials Bhagwan is good good for fooling citizens.

    In reality the management and most engineers give a damn to Indian research. All they think is mai meri biwi, bache, palace and car.

    Similar attitude is visible in economic stratergy or 5 or 100 year plan.

    Why shake the old system when it's filling our Swiss wallet and votes.

    Migrate to origin country nd live life.

  18. Problem with Indian defense industry is, we strangle competitive behavior. Without competition the Incumbent executives don't feel the threat to their jobs, and thus become lax in research and development. Let's think what will happen if suddenly HAL, DRDO, ISRO etc have competition from private sector players? Immediately our capabilities will see tremendous improvements. Unfortunately our Govt is afraid of private sector participation, since this will erode their influence and source of graft. Until such competitive spirit is silenced, Indians cannot expect real growth in defense. There is a saying, if you fool me once, shame on you, but if you fool me twice, shame on me. Guess what type the Indian population is, getting fooled for decades by politicians.

  19. Buying Buying Buying and again Buying
    When are we going to make our own super jets!!! Wat's the point in having HAL or any other organization if we are not moving with the same pace as Chinese. All we do is assemble :(

  20. Did America sold their design?

  21. I wonder how good this thing really is.

  22. Stealth is a "hoax" in much the same way VG was in the sixties of the last century.Yes it has advantages but putting it into a combat fighter makes so many compromises that "puccho mat!" The US aircraft industry has survived by selling sometimes doubtful ( F104,F4) fighters to generate the R&D funds.They must be desperate about the F35/F22 situation as these projects are draining money and nowhere near completion-in terms of exportability.In a way the US approach is admirable; The LCA would have been better managed if it had the same "crassly commercial" spirit behind it. I tend to agree with INDIAN and Anonymous.

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