China’s second stealth fighter has made its first test flight, state media reported yesterday, in a boost to the country’s air capabilities even though the plane is unlikely to be deployed for years.
The J-31, the second stealth plane to be unveiled by China in less than two years, flew for 11 minutes on Wednesday morning, the state-run Global Times reported, citing an eyewitness. Two Chinese-made J-11 fighters accompanied it on the flight.
Photographs posted online by Chinese military enthusiasts appeared to show the black-painted combat plane in mid-flight near the northeastern city of Shenyang. Images of the aircraft were first leaked online in September.
China’s first stealth fighter, the J-20, was unveiled early last year, but is not expected to enter service until 2018. The country’s first aircraft carrier entered service last month, with others capable of carrying aircraft expected to follow.
The J-31 appears to be more mobile than the J-20, with its landing gear suggesting it is designed to be launched from an aircraft carrier, military expert Andrei Chang said.
He said the J-31 appeared similar to the latest “fifth” generation of US-designed stealth fighters, but with a less powerful engine and a lower proportion of sophisticated radar-blocking composite materials.
“In terms of design it appears the J-31 is inferior to the latest US planes,” said Chang, head of the Kanwa Information Center, which monitors China’s military. “The layout is similar, but the material and quality are inferior.”
A long testing process means the aircraft is unlikely to be put into action for nearly a decade.
“It will take at least seven or eight years before it can be commercially sold,” Chang said, adding that the test flight was timed to coincide with the run-up to China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
“I think the regime is trying to show off to their colleagues that the Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) regime achieved a lot for China,” he said, adding that the J-31’s manufacturers hoped to export the plane to Chinese allies such as Pakistan.
“I think it’s a fairly straight forward evolution to develop advanced fighters at this time, but you can’t read too much into it in terms of capabilities,” Greg Waldron of Flightglobal magazine in Singapore told The Associated Press.
The smaller and nimbler J-31 appeared intended for a fighter-interceptor role similar to the US Joint Strike Fighter, while the heavier J-20 would target airfields, warships and other ground targets, he said.
China says its defense spending will top US$100 billion this year, the latest in a series of budget increases to the country’s 2.3 million-strong military.
Decades of increased investment saw the country fall from being the world’s largest importer of arms in 2007 to the fourth-largest by last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said.
Additional reporting by AP