New pictures show second Chinese stealth fighter being test flown
A jet fighter with stealth characteristics was test flown this week in China. (Photo from
November 2nd, 2012
08:28 PM ET

New pictures show second Chinese stealth fighter being test flown

WASHINGTON (CNN) - CNN has obtained detailed photographs of a new stealth fighter being tested in China.

It is the second such stealth fighter China has tested in as many years and appears destined to become the communist nation's future aircraft carrier-based fighter jet, according to weapons analysts.

The plane, dubbed by outsiders as the J-31, was test flown Tuesday in Shenyang. According to the analysts, the two photographs obtained by CNN appear to have been leaked by officials in China.

J-31 Chinese fighter jet. (Photo

"It has to be an official photographer because nobody else can get that close to the airplane," said John Pike, director of "These are all publicity photos from the factory, and I could not imagine that the factory would publicize these things without somebody higher up in the food chain authorizing it."

Richard Fisher, a senior fellow in Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC), agrees these are not pictures sent out surreptitiously by some Chinese aviation aficionado. "The Internet censors are controlling this process, have no doubt that."

But Fisher said the reason for the release may not be as threatening as some might imagine.

"It's being done in a way to help promote pro-military nationalism in China. There's just a huge, large audience in China for this kind of information. It's kind of like NASCAR."

No matter who let the pictures go public, they won't answer all the questions surrounding China's fighter program. "They don't want to reveal anything that's truly useful to a foreign military or intelligence service," Fisher said.

In January 2011, China tested the J-20, a fighter jet with stealth characteristics, much like the American F-22.

J-20 Chinese fighter jet. (Photo from IHS/Janes)

Fisher said the J-31 appears be a lighter fighter jet similar to the American F-35.

"The J-20 is the heavy stealth fighter, (The J-31) is going to be the medium-weight stealth fighter. It's very much in the same vein as the F-22 versus the F-35, with the Raptor, the F-22 being the heavy fifth-generation fighter for the U.S. Air Force versus the medium-weight F-35."

Pike said that could be the case, but it may be that China is test flying both prototypes and will choose just one to put into production.

While these are both fifth-generation fighter jets, that doesn't put them on par with America's two newest fighters.

For example, Pike said China's jet engines just don't come close to American engines. "This is a sucking chest wound of Chinese military aviation."

Pike said the primary Chinese military jet engine is based on an American design. "We started development of this engine back in the '60s. Then they commercialized it in the 1970s. Then the Chinese got a hold of it 20 years ago and it's still no good. It's a half century-old design that they've been working on for two decades, and it's still no good."

Fisher has a higher opinion of that engine. "It's not entirely true that China is currently facing massive problems. They've actually had some measure of success."

And Fisher said China appears to be developing a brand new engine for the J-31. "The engines that will likely power the J-31 we do know a bit more about. Those engines were actually revealed at the Zhuhai show in 2008," Fisher said referring to an annual China air show. He believes the new J-31 engine is undergoing preliminary testing.

Another problem is the stealth characteristics of the plane.

The J-31 is designed to have a stealthy shape. "From the side profile, it really looks like a 75% (scale) F-22 from the bottom, and the top profile it very much looks like an F-35."

The J-31 may have the stealth coatings that help it absorb radar signals instead of letting them bounce off and give away its position.

But Pike explained the plane has wide seams where different parts of the plane come together. "The seams form something the radar can bounce off of. I'm looking at some close-ups of the J-31 and it's seamy. It's got all kinds of seams and ripples on the skin."

Fisher agreed. "Yes, that's definitely a fair assessment, but what we can say is that it will have a definite low-observable capability, that's for sure."

While it may start out as a land-based fighter, Pike and Fisher both said it could become China's carrier-based fighter jet when the nation builds a second, catapult-based carrier. Their first carrier, currently undergoing sea tests, uses a ski-jump style flight deck to launch planes.

So should America start worrying about these new fighters ?

"Who else do you think these airplanes were designed to fight?" Pike said. "If the Chinese think that their military is a lot stronger than anybody else in the neighborhood, then they're going to throw their weight around."

Pike estimated the J-31 might become a threat in 2027. "You would expect to see the Chinese stealth fighter enter operational service, I don't know, 15 years from now."

Fisher is predicting much sooner.

"My estimate is that the J-31 will start entering squadron service in four to five years."

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Filed under: Air Force • Asia • China • F-22 • F-35 • J-20 • J-31 • Military
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  2. Sohel

    A fighter aircraft is a forces aircraft designed primarily designed for air-to-air combat opposed to other aircraft,[1] having the status of conflicting to bombers and attack aircraft, whose key mission is to attack ground targets. The hallmarks of a fighter are its hurry, maneuverability, and insignificant size next of kin to other combat aircraft.

    November 10, 2013 at 11:22 am | Reply
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    June 25, 2013 at 11:31 am | Reply
  4. Charles Glasgow

    I see the day in the future where the Chinese Government and the U.S. Government trade the populations of Taiwan and Cuba, putting each on a varied number of cruise ships built by each nation and do an 'Exodus 2' where the abilities of the oriental mind and body build up Cuba and the loser Cuban communists move to a city off China's coast the way Cape Town South Africa was built by the Europeans and occupied by the black (and white) South Africans. This also provides a way for Chinese capitalists in Taiwan to become American citizens if they want so when they land in our fifty-first state, move over Pueto Rico, they can cruise while they learn and take the oath.

    June 25, 2013 at 11:27 am | Reply
  5. pasha adv

    congrates for china from pakistan every pakistanies wish tht china would be powerfull more than evry thing of the world and tht my wish if china would be strong means pakistan is so strong bc china is body and pakistan is its heart so j31 is gift for both countries. pakistan and china may live long

    April 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  6. John Smith

    Do about 15 minutes worth of actual research and you'll quickly realize that it doesn't make a difference what kind of aircraft China builds–without the avionics to back it up, it's a worthless pile of scrap metal. They are DECADES behind the US on advanced avionics, jamming and ECM technology. End of story. Case closed. Talk to me about this subject in 15 years when they've caught up to where we are right now...

    December 16, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Reply
    • Frank Citterbart

      You must not forget that e g built a plant in china and may have access tyo the eng design of our mily

      March 10, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  7. Sam

    the biggest threat to the USA is the ignorance of its on and see for yourself!!

    December 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
    • John Smith

      You're a f'king idiot, much like the rest of the totally unqualified armchair experts that have posted on this story.

      December 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Reply
    • Wishin You Were Wrong

      like the election results and the end of our pre eminance as a super power

      March 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  8. T---

    Why would China attack the U.S., or jeopardize anything remotely resembling an armed conflict? They have everything to lose. This is about a chinese military/industrial complex that wants to generate more global credibility so they can compete with the U.S in hardware sales, of which we are number 1. They don't even have a single aircraft carrier, and can't project force beyond their own sphere. It's about making money. They'll this thing, to anyone who will buy it.

    November 27, 2012 at 9:49 am | Reply
    • Nanson Hwa

      The modernization of China's military is predicated on the fact that modern and industrialized countries have a modern military either set up for defense or offensive wars. China is no exception. It appears at this point in history she wants to modernize and develop her military capabilities to a point where she is in a position to neutralize any threat and instill fear that if any country should threaten war, that country will think twice about starting one. Therefore her military strength will serve a deterrent rather than a threat to world peace.

      November 27, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  9. del

    shoulda nuked the chinks 60 years ago.

    November 22, 2012 at 7:03 am | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle


      November 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Reply
  10. czheng

    After reading a lot of the comments, I am having a mixed feeling here. Most of people here say China products are crap, then we all buy their crap products. It seems to me that China is the winner here, if they can make $$$ just by selling us crap, what's the incentive there for them to make better products? in the end, it's all supply and demand. And we are the ones demanding these crappy products.
    There's no doubt that Chinese spies are stealing technologies from US. I'm not saying this is the right thing to do, but then from China's point of view, it makes the most sense. It is the only means to close the gap quickly with the rest of the world. Think about how long did it take the US to get to we are here today. China 30 years ago had nothing. No industry, no technology, no money, no nothing. Today, they are a big player in the international arena.
    A lot of people make it sound like making copies of weapons by reverse engineering them is as easy as copy and paste. It's not entirely true. It definitely helps – but you still need the whole chain of industry and the people with high technological expertise to make it happen. As of today, China is the only country capable of doing this besides the USA and Russia. Give the same design to an African country(no offense here), and do you think they could achieve the same?

    November 14, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Reply
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