China has launched the first test flight of a new stealth fighter prototype. The J-31 stealth fighter flew for approximately 11 minutes on Wednesday morning.
The news of China's stealth fighter test flight was being reported by the state-run Global Times according to the Agence France Presse (AFP). While the development of the stealth fighter is in its infancy, and it will not be a part of China's air force for several years, the flight was viewed by experts as a sign of China's progress in developing new aircraft.
The J-31 stealth fighter flew over the Shenyang Aircraft Company airfield, according to China Defense Mashup. The existence of the new stealth fighter was leaked in September when photos surfaced online, reports the AFP. This is China's second stealth fighter. The J-20 was announced in 2011 and was tested in Chengdu, according to the Associated Press. The J-20 stealth fighter is larger than the J-31, according to reports.
Andrei Chang, head of the Kanwa Information Centre, which monitors China's military, who spoke to AFP, said the J-31 may be deployed from an aircraft carrier. China has been testing its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, since 2011, according to Wired.
The design of the J-31 is reminiscent of newer American stealth fighters, although there are several significant differences between the J-31 and the U.S. fleet of stealth fighters. Chang said to AFP, "In terms of design, it appears the J-31 is inferior to the latest U.S. planes," citing a less powerful engine and less radar-blocking materials as the reasons. The J-31 may not be commercially available for close to a decade.
The AP also notes the J-31's technical capabilities, including stealth design, radar evading capabilities and sensors, are unknown at this moment. Greg Waldron, reporting for Fliightglobal magazine from Singapore, spoke to the AP and said the J-31 may be like the F-35 from the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter program. The F-35 stealth fighters are used mostly for air defense while the larger J-20 would be used for ground strikes or attacks on larger targets.
Aside from the advanced technology, the biggest challenge facing China's new stealth fighter is the creation of an engine that can handle the advanced stealth fighter, according to Ross Babbage, from the Kokoda Foundation, an Australian strategy think tank, who spoke to the AP. He said China continues to be dependent on Russia for engines.
Plenty of speculation about the new stealth fighter remains, according to Wired. What will be the J-31's role? Will it be deployed from an aircraft or from the ground? Other questions that are unanswered about the J-31 include its weapons system as well as its origins, notes Wired.