Images attributed to the second Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-31 prototype suggest that the unit is imminently ready to conduct its maiden test flight.
Reports from Chinese analysts surrounding the nearing completion of the second prototype have been mounting since Air Show China 2016, which took place in Zhuhai in November. British aviation journalist Alan Warnes reported that the second J-31 prototype would fly in December.
Specific details of the aircraft, such as its turbofan engines and onboard systems, are not yet known.
Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) began its concerted marketing push for the J-31 (i.e. FC-31) during the 2015 Dubai Air Show. At that time, AVIC promised to refine the J-31 technology demonstrator with numerous design improvements to the airframe.
The production-ready FC-31 will also utilize an active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar, helmet-mounted display and sight (HMD/S) system, infrared search and track (IRST), integrated electro-optical targeting system (EOTS), and single display-panel cockpit (with a side-mounted flight-control stick).
The FC-31 is to have capable load-out options as well, such as the capacity to internally carry six medium-range air-to-air missiles (with another six externally) or four 500 kg guided-bombs internally, among other possible configurations using the fighter’s internal and external hardpoints (IHS Jane’s).
At the 2015 Dubai Air Show, AVIC stated that the FC-31 will have a maximum take-off weight of 24,947 kg, payload capacity of almost 8,000 kg, service ceiling of 16,000 metres, and top speed of Mach 1.8. It will have a combat radius of 1,200 km.
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AVIC is marketing the FC-31 principally for export, though it hopes to secure domestic orders from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) or People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Pakistan has been pegged as a strong candidate for the FC-31, but the fighter could see traction in other countries as well, especially since the fifth-generation fighter market has no other serviceable or near-serviceable options beyond the Lockheed Martin F-35 and Sukhoi T-50.
The production-ready FC-31 is expected to fly in 2019. If ordered in time, it could reach initial operational capability by 2022 and full operational capability by 2024.