24 September 2015
A sub-scale model of the Shenyang FC-31 fifth-generation fighter made its second appearance at the September 2015 Beijing Air Show. (photos : Top81)
The posting on Chinese websites of possible performance data for the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) FC-31 fifth-generation fighter indicates it could pose a commercial threat to Western and Russian fighter manufacturers.
A modified version of SAC's J-31 technology development fighter, an FC-31 model made its second appearance at the Beijing Air Show in mid-September. However, as at its debut appearance at the November 2014 Airshow China at Zhuhai, the Aviation Industries Corporation of China (AVIC) did not provide data on the aircraft.
On 15 September FC-31 performance data was posted anonymously online. The data reads like descriptive information intended for internal Chinese distribution and was apparently deemed not sensitive enough to be deleted by China's formidable internet censors. Other sources suggest it could have been released at the Beijing Air Show.
Apparently semi-approved internet revelations of otherwise classified data happen frequently, as the J-31's gradual revelation from 2010 to 2012 illustrate. However, the unofficial nature of such data deservedly prompts questions about its credibility.
For example, in the absence of more data on the FC-31's true empty weight, internal fuel capacity, and engine efficiency, some Chinese observers questioned claims that the "internal fuel combat radius" for a fighter of its size could be as much as 1,200 km.
However, the reported maximum engine thrust figure of "88.29 kn" or 9 tons, does conform with statements made by Chinese officials to IHS Jane's at the 2015 Paris Air Show that China was testing a new 9-ton medium thrust turbofan on the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation FC-1/JF-17 fighter. Thought to be an improved version of the WS-13 Taishan turbofan reportedly developed from the Russian Klimov 8.29-ton thrust RD-33 turbofan, it will power versions of the single-engine FC-1 and the twin-engine FC-31.
The data posted online describes the FC-31 as "designed for high survivability, low radar detectability, low IR (infrared) signature, and excellent capabilities for electronic counter measures".