Shenyang Aircraft Corporation announced the development of a carrier-based 5th generation fighter jet would be accelerated in 2021, Global Times reports.
Currently, the sole Chinese fighter able to operate from an aircraft carrier is the Shenyang J-15 “Flying Shark”. But that local version of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33, based on the Soviet Su-27 designed in the 1980s, hardly stands a chance against the F-35C of the US Navy, the F35B of the British Royal Navy, or even the Rafale Marine of the French Navy. Thus, with the Chinese Navy commissioning at least three new aircraft carriers in the span of ten years, it needed a new carrier-capable aircraft.
Story of a second chance
The Chinese authorities might have finally set their heart on a candidate. On March 30, 2021, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation confirmed that the development of a carrier-based 5th generation fighter would be accelerated in 2021. Attached to the statement was a photograph showing an FC-31, the only 5th generation fighter developed by the company.
In 2019, the Shenyang FC-31 “Gyrfalcon” was rejected by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), which preferred its competitor, the Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon”. Since then, both were reportedly considered for a maritime conversion. But being lighter and smaller than the J-20, the FC-31 seems like a better fit for a carrier.
In order to sustain the physical constraints of a catapult launch and an arrested landing, the FC-31 will likely have to see its airframe and landing gear reinforced. New material will also have to be used to avoid the accelerated corrosion of a saline environment.
So far, no prototype of the FC-31 has been seen in this version. The last appearance of the FC-31 dates back to September 2020, when pictures of an upgraded and refurbished prototype of the Gyrfalcon emerged on Chinese social media, hinting that Shenyang was still actively working on its aircraft.