China Set to Show Off J-31 Stealth Fighter, Y-20 Heavy Transport Aircraft Later This Year


China is set to show off its J-31 advanced stealth fighter and Y-20 heavy transport aircraft later this year at a trade show. According to Xinhua, China’s state-owned news agency, the Aviation Industry Corp. (AVIC) of China, a major state-owned defense aviation enterprise, will feature the two aircraft prominently at the upcoming 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in the southern city of Zhuhai, in Guangdong province. The show will open on November 1.

The two aircraft are built by AVIC subsidiaries; the J-31 (also known as the “Gyrfalcon”) is built by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and the Y-20 (codenamed the Kunpeng and nicknamed “Chubby Girl”) by Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation. The Y-20 was introduced into service with China’s People’s Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) earlier this summer while the J-31 is set to enter service with the PLAAF in roughly two to three years by most independent estimates.

Both aircraft fulfill drastically different strategic roles for the PLAAF. The Y-20 will abet Chinese expeditionary military operations with heavy transport and strategic airlift duties, much like the U.S.  and the J-31 serving an agile multirole function, much like the U.S. C-117 Globemaster and Soviet Antonov An-70. F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter. Indeed, the design of the J-31 is believed to have been the product of industrial espionage of the F-35. The two aircraft share common hardware elements, including a similar airframe design and two internal weapons bays. Though much the aircraft’s detailed specifications remain publicly unknown, aviation experts estimate that the J-31 features inferior avionics to the F-35.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The Zhuhai show later this year will be far from the first time AVIC has promoted the J-31. As my colleague Franz-Stefan Gady reported last year, AVIC promoted the aircraft for the first time overseas at the Dubai Air Show in the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, AVIC promoted the J-31 at the Zhuhai airshow in 2014, kicking off a spate of speculation that Beijing was interested in offering the aircraft as an export model–a low-cost F-35 competitor of sorts for states with tighter budgets and less geopolitical amity with the United States. (The Chengdu J-20, meanwhile, much like the U.S. F-22 Raptor, is restricted for PLAAF use exclusively and barred for export.)

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief