Tuesday, November 11, 2014

China shows off its new stealth fighter

China’s new stealth fighter roared out of the smog hanging over the country’s premier air show on Tuesday, as its makers sought to impress a gallery of overseas military officers whom Chinese defense contractors hope will one day buy the aircraft.

Pictures of the J-31, which is still under development, have been posted on various Chinese websites and blogs by amateur enthusiasts in recent years but yesterday’s performance at the biennial Zhuhai display marked its official coming-out party.

“It is our dream to break the monopoly that foreign countries have on new-generation jet fighters,” Li Yuhai, deputy general manager at Aviation Industry Corporation of China, told reporters at the show. “The J-31 will also be a flagship product for us in the international arms market.”

Most of the foreign military VIPs in attendance represented Middle Eastern, African and Latin American air forces, although senior representatives from the US Air Force and many of Washington’s allies were also present.

“This is the first time that we have been formally invited to the show,” said one Spanish air force officer. “Previously we have been able to come by ourselves but that’s not the same.”

Analysts say that the J-31 will ultimately be marketed to militaries that are not able to buy the Pentagon’s F-35 fighter.

“Before we could only see the backs of our foreign competitors,” Avic’s Mr Li said. “But now we can compete on the same field.”

“It will strengthen our ability to compete for air supremacy with Japan and the US,” said Ni Lexiong, a Chinese military expert. “Sometimes militaries need to reveal their fists.”

The People’s Liberation Army wants to project power further out over the East and South China seas, where it is embroiled in a number of territorial disputes with Japan and other neighbours. On Monday Beijing and Tokyo ended a two-year freeze in high-level diplomatic relations when Chinese President Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, held a brief meeting on the sidelines of this week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

A solitary J-31 appeared on the horizon shortly after an ear-shattering performance by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s aerobatic team, which flies J-10 fighters, and a more lumbering turn by a PLAAF Y-20 transport plane.

On the air show’s official program, the J-31’s slot was listed as a performance by an “undisclosed fighter”, although word of its debut had leaked out weeks ago. The fighter is not included among the PLAAF aircraft parked on Zhuhai’s tarmac for more leisurely inspection.

“It looked good but the performance wasn’t very impressive,” said one German military official. “There weren’t a lot of high-G manoeuvres. But then I don’t think that was the point.”

He highlighted design similarities between the J-31 and F-35 – and also the J-10 and Eurofighter. On a recent military exchange, he added, German Eurofighter and Chinese J-10 pilots took turns flying each other's airplanes.

Tuesday’s J-31 performance was not a purely Chinese performance. The aircraft is powered by Russian engines, which Avic has said it hopes one day to replace with indigenous ones.

- Source:  http://www.ft.com