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China’s secretive new stealth fighter model spotted at key aircraft carrier test facility

Shenyang J-31 (F60) at the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show. (WC, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
June 10, 2021

A model of China’s Shenyang FC-31 Gyrfalcon, a stealth fighter jet under development with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has been photographed at a Chinese carrier aircraft test facility this week, indicating its potential as China’s next carrier-borne fighter jet.

The French publication East Pendulum tweeted, “At #Wuhan, on the Institute 701’s aircraft carrier electromagnetic evaluation platform at 1: 1 scale, the FC-31 model (??) is now visible.”

The uncorroborated photo purports to show a Chinese aircraft mock-up believed to be the FC-31 fighter jet aboard a concrete mock-up of a Chinese aircraft carrier.

Forbes reported the mock-up fighter jet was photographed at a Chinese facility in Wuhan that is known to builds mock-ups of new ship designs in order to test different sensor layouts. The facility reportedly has a mock-up of its Type 055 destroyer/cruise as well as a copy of parts of China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier concept. China’s Type 003 carrier is the first planned aircraft-carrier design to use a catapult aircraft launch system instead of the ski-jump style ramp of its first two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong.

The first real-life Chinese Type 003 aircraft carrier is currently being built at a shipyard in Shanghai.

Defense News reported the FC-31 was developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation independent from any specific Chinese military aircraft project and had its first successful flight in 2012. Following the successful flight, the FC-31 was marketed for foreign sales but was unsuccessful in winning any foreign contracts.

Defense News reported the aircraft has been rumored to have been selected for Chinese military use as a fighter jet outfitted for use on its new aircraft carriers. In 2016 the aircraft was reportedly fitted with a new and significantly altered airframe and set for new test flights.

The appearance of the mock-up fighter jet on the mock-up aircraft carrier is an indicator that the FC-31’s new round of development is indeed intended to turn the aircraft model into a viable carrier-borne fighter.

Past mock ships and aircraft have been displayed at the Wuhan military facility, only to materialize into real life ships and aircraft fielded by the Chinese military. Defense News reported mock-ups of the Type 002 and 003 aircraft carriers, 055 cruiser, the Shenyang J-15 fighter jet and Xian KJ-600 airborne early warning aircraft have previously appeared at the Wuhan site, before going into service or continuing through their development process.

The FC-31 design includes notable stealth features, such as an overall sleek stealth shaping, low-observable intakes and an internal weapons bay, which are all intended to reduce the aircraft’s radar cross-section to help it evade detection.

Forbes reported the FC-31 could serve as a smaller, lighter and potentially cheaper stealth fighter option than the J-20 fighter jet – China’s only successful stealth fighter to date.