9 photos of the J-31, China’s copycat version of the F-35 stealth fighter — here’s how it stacks up

how the J-31 stacks up against the F-35 stealth fighter
A J-31 stealth fighter of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force is seen during a test flight ahead of the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, November 10, 2014. More than 130 planes will attend the six-day air show starting on Tuesday, Xinhua News Agency reported. REUTERS/Alex Lee (CHINA - Tags: MILITARY TRANSPORT)

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.

A model of the J-31 stealth fighter is displayed at the section for at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai in November 2012 / Reuters

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.

A side-by-side comparison of the F-35 (top), and the J-31 (bottom) / Public Domain / Source: Popular Science

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 takes off during the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in November 2014 / wc/Wikimedia Commons / Source: Popular Science

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 streaks above the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition / Reuters / Source: Popular Science

The J-31 is a twin-engine aircraft, and the F-35 is a single engine aircraft.

The J-31 flies during the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in November 2014 / Reuters

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.

Source: Popular ScienceThe Aviationist

The J-31 might also one day be able to carry 12 air-to-air missiles, double the F-35’s armament.

The J-31 lands on a runway after a flying performance at the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition November 2014 / Reuters / Source: WarIsBoring

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.

The J-31 deploys drogue parachutes to rapidly slow upon landing at the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in 2014 / Tonkatsu298/YouTube

“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.

One of the first known pictures of the J-31 right before or after making its maiden flight in 2012 / The Aviationist / Source: Popular Science

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.

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