Stealth Fighter Showdown: China FC-31 vs. America’s F-35 (Who Wins?)
Stealth Fighter Showdown: China FC-31 vs.  America’s F-35 (Who Wins?)

Stealth Fighter Showdown: China FC-31 vs. America’s F-35 (Who Wins?)

FC-31 looks like F-22 and F-35, but looks can be deceiving – At the Saudi Arabian World Defense Show, held in Riyadh in March, visitors could have been forgiven if they they thought then -one Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II exhibited. The American defense contractor was obviously not present at the exhibition, but the Chinese Shenyang FC-31 Gyrfalcon (also known as J-31) was on display, and it certainly has more than a temporary resemblance to Lyn II.

China has long copied – or reverse-engineered – all sorts of Western products, so it’s not surprising to think it copied an American design for its fifth-generation fighter jet. And it would not be the first time. It’s hard not to see the influence from Lockheed Martin F-22 in the Chinese Chengdu J-20, or the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 in the Chinese Shenyang J-15.

However, the single-seater, twin-engine, medium-sized, multi-role FC-31 has taken this even further – so much so that some military analysts have suggested that it is little more than a F-35 stamped “Made in China” on the fuselage. It has even been reported that the similarities of the plane are evidence that the Chinese stole American technology.

Chinese hackers are believed to have stolen several terabyte worth of data related to the F-35 program, including information about Lightning II’s radar design – the number and types of modules used by the system – as well as its engine, including the cooling method used of gases, front and rear edge treatments and contour maps for heating the aft deck.

It was shortly after the hack was discovered that FC-31 was first revealed to the worldas a quarter scale model, at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in 2012. A full-size aircraft became official introduced at the Zhuhai Airshow in November 2014.

How do they compare?

Looking aside, it has been reported that the FC-31 has a stealth aerodynamic design as well as stealth coating – but there are other factors to consider, including radar-absorbing coating materials and the use of internal weapons compartments. The latter feature allows the F-35 to operate in so-called “stealth mode”, where it uses a “First Day of War” loadout that could consist of four AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles for air-to-air missions, or a mix of four AIM-120s / GBU-31 JDAM “smart bombs” for air-to-ground missions.

As the name suggests, stealth loadouts are designed to minimize radar cross-sections and to maintain low observability (LO) when enemy air defense systems are operating at full capacity. But as an opponent’s enemy air defense systems – including sensors, air defense missiles, cannon systems and even enemy aircraft – are eliminated, and the conflict enters the “Third Day of War”, the load can change accordingly. Once it is determined that the F-35 no longer needs to rely on its stealth and LO for survival “animal condition” comes into play as the F-35 then inserts externally mounted weapons with a larger radar footprint.

The weapon load is significantly greater. In stealth mode, the F-35 can carry 5,700 lbs internally, while in “beast mode” it can carry as much as 22,000 lbs of both air-to-air and air-to-ground ammunition. Clearly, beast mode can do much more damage, but with more visibility.

At present, it is simply too early to say whether the FC-31 can actually go toe-to-toe with the US and allied F-35s, but it has been reported that the Chinese fighter jet has received largely negative reviews when seen for air shows. Yet it can probably still challenge America’s fourth generation non-stealth fighter jetswhile the most important question remains how it will fare against the F-35.

Now senior editor in 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based author who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He writes regularly about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headwear, including A gallery with military headgear, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also one Contributing author for Forbes.

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