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China And US In A Race To Develop The World’s First Aircraft Carrier-Borne Stealth Fighter

China and the US could be on the verge of a new arms race, as both
countries appear to be developing fifth-generation stealth aircraft that
can launch from aircraft carriers. 

David Axe, at War is Boring, notes China
has placed a full-scale model of its fifth-generation J-31 stealth
aboard a mock-up of China’s single aircraft carrier. China
frequently tests new additions to its military arsenal by building these
kinds of model prototypes first — although the J-31 also underwent its first test-flights this past June.  

If China is actually planning on deploying its J-31 fighter aboard
its Liaoning aircraft carrier, the J-31 would be a direct competitor to
the US’s troubled F-35C.
The F-35C, which is meant to deploy to the US’s carrier fleet by 2018,
would be the first stealth plane that can be deployed from sea. 

China’s aspirations towards such advanced military capabilities
come at a time that the US is attempting to pivot much of its military
and diplomatic efforts to the Asian Pacific region. China believes it
stands to lose from this possible gain in American power in Asia, and
Beijing is seeking to counterbalance any increase in US influence in its backyard. 

J-31 Stealth Fighter
J-31 Stealth Fighter

The ability to launch fifth-generation fighters from the open ocean
would be a huge boon to both the US and China, and it’s a capability
that could dramatically shift the balance of power in the Pacific.
Tensions have continued to rise
between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea to the south and
Japan to the east; a carrier-borne fifth-generation fighter could
hypothetically give China greater first-strike capability in the event
of a war. 

Aside from the J-31, China is currently in the process of placing two more aircraft carriers in its fleet. One of the two would be nuclear-powered and as large as a US supercarrier. 

The Chengdu J-20 fifth-generation fighter jet. China is also developing a second fifth-generation stealth aircraft called the J-20. The J-20 is only in its prototype phase, and is further from a full rollout than the more-developed F-35. But the plane could still be a game changer
within Asia, and the aircraft has been at least partially modeled off
of stolen F-22 and F-35 plans. The J-20 could hypothetically reach
targets within Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. 

Whereas the J-20 is largely seen as a copy of US aircraft, the J-31
will be smaller, sleeker, and more original in its design, assuming it
flies in its intended form. Vladimir Barkovsky, chief of the Russian MiG
aircraft design bureau, has called the J-31 a “well-done indigenous design.” 

The J-31 is about the same size as the F-35. However, the Chinese aircraft has smaller engines and a flatter fuselage, which implies a focus
on air-to-air combat. The design means that the J-31 will have a
smaller weapons bay than the F-35 — but it will have improved fuel
efficiency and higher speed due to its comparatively less drag. 

It is possible that China is
developing the J-31 to eventually fly alongside the J-20. This would be
similar to the US’s envisioned use of the F-22 and the F-35, which are
meant to compliment rather than replace one another. 

China may also be developing the J-31 solely for the export market and
as a rival to the F-35. If this is the case, China sees itself as a
future world weapons supplier to nations that the US would otherwise not
necessarily sell to.

A likely candidate for the purchase of a Chinese fifth-generation fighter would be Pakistan. The two nations had previously jointly developed an advanced fighter and Pakistan receives 54% of its arms from China.