|Chengdu J-20 (File Photo)|
by Reuben F. Johnson
When the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) acquired its first tranche of Russian-made Sukhoi Su-27SK fighters in the early 1990s, long-time observers of China’s industrial base asked two questions. The first was how long would it be before Chinese state-controlled aerospace industry was able to reverse-engineer and build unlicensed copies of the Su-27—as they had done with Russia’s Mikoyan MiG-21 decades before.
This was accomplished in slightly more than 10 years, which produced a number of “indigenous” fighter designs produced at Shenyang that are analogues of the Russian design they were copied from. The Chinese J-11B is a near copy of the Su-27, the J-15 a knockoff of the carrier-capable Su-33 and the J-16 is a duplication of the Su-30MKK models sold to the PLAAF.
The second question was how many years after that would it be before Chinese industry started to produce some next-generation, original designs by building on what they had learned from the Russians. This next phase—the emergence of “clean-sheet” fighter designs—is well underway now, and is seen in the form of the two newest Chinese fighter designs. These are the Shenyang FC/J-31 and the Chengdu J-20
|Shenyang FC-31/J-31 (File Photo)|
The two aircraft appear externally to be stealthy designs, both are twin-engine aircraft and they are both departures from the type of developments that these two aircraft enterprises have been known for in the past.
Russian aerospace researchers and aerodynamicists have told AIN a clear “hierarchy” exists between manufacturers Shenyang and Chengdu—both subsidiaries of the CATIC group (Hall 2a Stand D252). “More recently, much of the more advanced work that has been done with fighter aircraft development has been carried out at Chengdu,” said a senior Russian aerospace scientist, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The two enterprises collaborate back and forth in different areas, but sometimes there is more of a flow of innovation in one direction than there is in the other.”
The reputation that Chengdu has for being the more innovative of the two was enhanced by the fact that its J-20 fighter emerged as a new program and made its first flight well in advance of the FC-31. Additionally, the J-20 was unofficially categorized as a program of record for the PLAAF, whereas the FC-31 was initially presented as a “for export” program in the mold of the JF-17 that was developed at Chengdu for sale and license-production in Pakistan.
Read the full story at AINonline