There is little doubt in this Bystander’s mind that the photographs and video of the maiden flight of China’s second stealth fighter, popularly dubbed the J-31 (left), were leaked ahead of publication by the state run Global Times. It creates a buzz about an aircraft that is probably still a decade from being operational, and sustains a drumbeat of the progress being made by China’s aerospace and defence industries. The flight coincides with a visit of the U.S. defence secretary. Just as the maiden flight of the J-20 stealth fighter did in January last year.
The newly revealed aircraft is smaller than the J-20. That suggests the potential for carrier deployment, if not on the newly commissioned Liaoning, China’s first carrier, then on one of its successors now under construction in the yards near Shanghai.
Better trained military eyes than ours detect a striking similarity between the J-31 and the F-22 and F-35 Lightening fighters of the U.S. Navy, and particularly the F-35C (right), the carrier-based version. The speculation is that is the result of hacking of six to eight of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 sub-contractors in the mid- to late-2000s. We expect such allegations to be refuted, just as were those that the J-20 was reverse engineered. The J-31, too, will be hailed as a “masterpiece of China’s technological innovation,” and the more so when its Russian engines are swapped out for domestically developed ones.