In development for nearly a decade, the FC-31 stealth fighter may have found a vocation, being the future fighter aircraft of the Chinese navy’s new aircraft carrier.
A mockup of the Shenyang fighter jet was spotted aboard the structure that simulates an aircraft carrier in Wuhan in recent times, indicating that the FC-31 is indeed in PLAN’s plans.
The image posted on social media shows the jet seen from behind, with its characteristic beveled horizontal stabilizers, alongside previously known J-15 fighters and a Z-18 helicopter.
The appearance reinforces a Pentagon report that forecasts the use of the fighter on board aircraft carriers and also information posted by the AVIC Weibo account that shows a silhouette of the FC-31 as a new Chinese carrier-borne fighter.
If confirmed, the new role given to the twin-engine jet will be good news for a very troubled project. Shenyang introduced the FC-31 ten years ago, which took its maiden flight in 2012.
This aircraft, painted in black, showed a great resemblance to the F-22 Raptor, although it is smaller. Powered by two RD-93 engines, the FC-31 did not convince the PLAAF, who preferred to order the larger and more capable Chengdu J-20.
Shenyang, however, did not give up on the project. In 2016, a second revised prototype of the fighter flew, revealing several enhancements such as swept vertical tails and WS-13 Chinese engines.
The adoption of the FC-31 as a carrier-borne fighter is an interesting alternative for the Chinese Navy, which currently depends only on the J-15, a Sukhoi Su-33 capable of taking off from ramps. This type of configuration used on the country’s two aircraft carriers limits the fighters’ carrying capacity and range.
For this reason, PLAN is building the Type 003, an aircraft carrier equipped with a catapult mechanism similar to US Navy ships, including the EMALS electromagnetic system.
Although the J-15 should gain a version capable of taking off by catapults, the naval variant of the FC-31 can certainly be adapted more effectively for this role. Among the necessary changes are the reinforcement of the landing gear, installation of a braking hook and a mechanism for retracting the wings on the deck.
Given the Chinese ambition to have a large and powerful navy, the future of the Shenyang fighter seems to be assured.