After China’s J-31 stealth fighter made its first full-scale public appearance in 2014, observers noted its striking resemblance to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
And many weren’t surprised: China was thought to have stolen unclassified F-35 design information five years earlier.
But recently, there’s been little reporting and discussion about the J-31.
“Part of that, to my knowledge, is that the [PLA] Air Force still hasn’t bought any of them,” Matthew P. Funaiole, a fellow with the China Power Project at CSIS, told Business Insider.
“It was supposed to be introduced in 2018 [or] 2019 … but there hasn’t been much chatter on it,” Funaiole added.
Here’s how the J-31 stacks up against the F-35, and what China might do with the new fighter.
The J-31 had already resembled the F-35 — both are multirole strike fighters — when a scaled model of it was unveiled in 2012.
Although the J-31’s full specifications are not yet known, the J-31 and F-35 have roughly the same weight, height and wingspan.
But the J-31 has a maximum takeoff weight of 56,000 pounds and a maximum range of 775 miles, making it lighter than the 70,000-pound F-35, and with roughly half the range.
The J-31 has the reported edge in speed, as it can max out at Mach 1.8 while the F-35’s can only reach Mach 1.6.
The J-31 is a twin-engine aircraft, and the F-35 is a single engine aircraft.
In fact, the slightly improved J-31 prototype (there are only two known to exist), which first flew in December 2016, was equipped with a cleaner burning WS-13 engine, among other improvements.
Beijing has even claimed that the J-31 will eventually have supercruise-capable WS-19 engines, giving it a leg up on the F-35.
The J-31 might also one day be able to carry 12 air-to-air missiles, double the F-35’s armament.
But unlike the J-31, the F-35 has a sensor suite giving the pilot greater awareness of the battlefield and is basically a flying data hub that shares target tracking information.
“There is no indication that China’s J-31 has been able to fuse such a large variety of feeds into a singular manageable interface,” Popular Science recently wrote. “That means the F-35’s ability to fight from beyond the horizon won’t be found in its Chinese knock-off.”
As for how the J-31 will be used? Chinese military analysts have said that it will probably replace the J-15 as Beijing’s primary carrier fighter.
Many believe the J-15 is too heavy and too unreliable for carrier operations – a big hurdle as China tries to build a formidable aircraft carrier fleet.
You can watch the J-31 in action below.