At an air show in southern China, officials said that a next-generation carrier-based fighter jet is being worked on that could be unveiled this year.
Although the nation’s current carrier fighter is capable, there has long been speculation that a fifth-generation fighter will be adopted by the Chinese navy. It is widely expected that the new plane is a derivative of the FC-31 stealth fighter which was developed by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation for export but is said to have never found a foreign buyer.
Signs to acquire a naval version of FC-31
As per reports, earlier this year, a non-flying mock-up of the twin-engine jet had appeared at the navy’s facility in Wuhan where it tests electronic systems for the fleet’s aircraft carriers. So, it could be said that already there were signs of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) wanting to acquire a naval version of the FC-31.
The upcoming Type 003 carrier
Currently, PLAN has two conventional carriers, Liaoning and Shandong. While the first one is crafted from the refitted hull of an older Soviet vessel, the second ship is said to be a Chinese-built copy of the first, with some upgrades and enhancements made in the ship but in the view, both of the medium carriers lack catapults. Instead, they launch their planes via a bow ramp. This type of launch method is a low-energy one compared to a catapult launch as the bow ramp limits how heavy a plane can still safely take off.
On the other hand, a third carrier which is a still-unnamed vessel known simply as Type 003, is in the works and is believed to feature catapults for launching a higher variety of planes much more efficiently than the ramp system on its predecessors and thus the first Chinese flattop can operate the KJ-600s as well as fighters with full loads of fuel and weaponry.
The new carrier is also said to have a larger flight deck as compared to the other two ships along with several other improvements. This new ship is expected to be China’s first modern aircraft carrier. As per the Chinese media reports, China’s next carrier-based fighter could be possible based on the fifth-generation J-31 (FC-31) which is a stealthy aircraft that first flew in 2012.
Not that different from the U.S. Navy
Some rumours also say that the PLAN is working on a radar-jamming version of the J-15 which is called the J-15D. It is something which could be expected, All four types shall be on the roster once Type 003 embarks on an air wing in the upcoming years.
Although the Chinese wing lacks several specialized aircraft such as tankers and tiltrotor transports, the new PLAN carrier air wing isn’t much different from a United States Navy air wing which has a mix of fighters, radar planes and jammers.
On a note, the KJ-600 and J-15T are already being used by China, so even if the naval FC-31 fails, the J-15T could simply fill the gap but if the naval FC-31 officials feature new engines, it’s a hopeful sign for the PLAN as it works to build its first truly capable carrier.