China is working on a next-generation fighter jet for its airlines

  • China is working on a next-generation fighter for its growing aircraft carrier.
  • The chief designer of the current aircraft-based fighter jet said this week that the new jet could be unveiled this year.
  • Speculation is mounting the Chinese Navy will opt for a fifth-generation fighter jet with a bit of stealth.

China is working on a next-generation aircraft-based fighter jet, and the plane may be unveiled this year, the chief designer of the country’s current aircraft-based fighter jets said this week at the Zhuhai airshow.

“When it’s ready, you’ll see it. Don’t worry. Wait. It’s here soon,” Sun Cong, chief designer of the J-15 fighter-based fighter jet arming China’s first two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.

“Probably this year, before the end of the year, you will see be able to watch it,” he said in a video of the briefing broadcast on Weibo by state television station CCTV’s national defense and military news channel.

The state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China shared the video on social media with a brief note suggesting the aircraft will be unveiled within the year. China’s current transport aircraft are capable, but there has long been speculation that the Chinese navy will adopt a fifth-generation fighter jet that matches the ambition shown in its airline fleet construction.

connecting aircraft carrier

China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning participates in a military exercise of the Chinese Liberation Army (PLA) fleet in the western Pacific, April 18, 2018.

Stringer via Reuters

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) has two conventional carriers – Liaoning and Shandong. The first ship was built from the rebuilt hull of an older Soviet vessel, and the second is essentially a Chinese-built replica of the first, with some upgrades and improvements.

A third ship, an as yet unnamed vessel simply called Type 003, is underway and is expected to “significantly upgrade China’s fleet capacity,” according to an analysis of satellite images of the ship by three experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“When Type 003 finally comes into service, it will be a formidable addition to China’s fleet and allow it to project power more efficiently,” they wrote in June as photos showed the carrier coming together at Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.

The new aircraft carrier will likely have catapults to launch a wider range of aircraft more efficiently and effectively than the ramp system of its predecessors. It will also have a larger aircraft deck than the other two ships and probably a number of other improvements. This new ship is expected to be China’s first modern aircraft carrier.

The ships are apparently not the only place where China hopes to make a significant technological leap forward.

Shenyang J-15 'Flying Shark' fighter aircraft aboard China's first aircraft carrier, Liaoning

Shenyang J-15 ‘Flying Shark’ fighter aircraft aboard China’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning

Kin Cheung / AP

Just as the first two carriers were based on Soviet airline designs reflected in ships as Russia’s only airline, Admiral Kuznetsov, the J-15 is said to be based on an incomplete prototype of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 airline-based air superiority fighter.

This fourth-generation aircraft is generally considered capable, but a fifth-generation fighter aircraft, typically defined in part by stealth capabilities, would offer a potential boost to China’s ability to project power with its aviation soldier.

As Chinese media highlighted this week, there has been a lot of speculation that China’s next airline-based fighter jet could be based on the fifth generation J-31 (FC-31), an insidious aircraft that first flew in 2012 and was originally marketed for exports before the project was audited.

Speculation was fueled in June last year when images surfaced on social media showing what appeared to be a stealth fighter similar to a design for FC-31 at a scornful land-based carrier in Wuhan.

The Chinese PLAN is the largest navy in the world, according to the US Department of Defense. But the U.S. Navy, China’s biggest rival in the maritime field, possesses the stronger force and the largest aviation soldier with 11 nuclear-powered flattops.

The U.S. Air Force consists almost entirely of aircraft carriers in the Nimitz class, but the Navy is building a new class of airlines known as the Ford class, the first of which is expected to be deployed next year.

In addition to working on a new class of aircraft carriers equipped with a range of new technologies, the U.S. Navy has also begun performing airline-based fifth-generation F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters on its ships.

The first U.S. aircraft carrier deployed with F-35s left San Diego in August and sailed through the South China Sea this month.

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