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China Touts Stealth Fighter Jet, But So Far No Takers

November 8, 2015 (Photo Credit: Aaron Mehta/Staff)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — China showcased its first stealth fighter jet here on the opening day of the Dubai Air Show, but so far the fifth-generation aircraft has no customers in sight.

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is "in negotiations" with the Chinese Air Force to buy the multi-role FC-31, AVIC project manager Lin Peng told reporters on Sunday. Peng declined to say when a deal would be finalized.

Top company officials briefed the media on the stealth characteristics and attack capabilities of the FC-31, but did not take questions from the audience.

This is the first time the Chinese company has showcased the FC-3, also known as the J-31 internationally, although a prototype aircraft flew during the Zhuhai Air Show in China last year. Chinese fighters are designated with a "J" for fighter and "FC" for export.

FC-31 would be the first aircraft of its kind available to global customers who face US export restrictions or cannot afford Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter. The Chinese company is trying to pitch the FC-31 as a competitor to the JSF, but at this point it is unclear how successful this will be. The customer lineup appears to be Iran and Pakistan.

The FC-31, which closely resembles the F-35, is a medium-sized, low-observable aircraft designed for "the demands of future battlefield environments," Peng told reporters during the briefing.

Officials touted the aircraft's "outstanding situational awareness" achieved with advanced radar, high maneuvering capabilities, and multi-spectrum low-observability. The plane is equipped with twin engines made in China, officials said — not the Russian RD-93 engines previously on the aircraft.

The FC-31 will carry the Small Diameter Bomb, as well as a variety of guided and unguided weapons, officials said.

The test aircraft has been flying for more than two years, Peng told reporters after the briefing. AVIC is planning first flight of the production aircraft in 2019, with initial operational capability scheduled for 2022. The FC-31 will be fully operational in 2024.

US officials and analysts widely believe the FC-31 design was stolen from the F-35 after reports of a major cyber breach of Lockheed's programs by Chinese hackers in April 2009.


Twitter: @laraseligman

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