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article imageVideo: China's Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter makes maiden flight

By JohnThomas Didymus     Nov 1, 2012 in Technology
Beijing - Soon after photos of China's new J-31 stealth fighter were posted to Chinese social media with news that a test flight had taken place at the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation airfield, video purporting to show the fighter in its maiden flight was released.
The Washington Post reports that like most reports about new developments in the Chinese military technology industry, the photos and video originated from the Chinese social media.
The first photos of the new aircraft, referred to as the Shenyang J-31, were posted online Thursday and show the stealth fighter airborne near the northeastern city of Shenyang with its landing gear down, Shangaiist reports.
According to MSN India, the state-run Global Times reported that the J-31 fighter made an 11-minute maiden flight at AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) airfield in Liaoning Province.
Shangaiist reports the fighter was accompanied in its maiden flight by two Chinese-made J-11 fighters. Chinese websites say the flight took place Wednesday.
China's unveiling of its second prototype of the stealth fighter marks a "major milestone in the country's drive to catch up with US technology," MSN India reports. The Shangaiist also reports that experts say the new fighter is a demonstration of the "growing sophistication" of the Chinese aircraft industry.
The Shenyang J-31
The Shenyang J-31
Western military observers, however, say that although both the J-31 and its predecessor, the J-20 prototype, feature stealth designs, their actual capabilities as radar-evading stealth aircraft are unknown. Wired's David Axe, commenting, described the maiden flight “a huge leap forward for China’s ambitious stealth warplane program," but said, “there are still more questions than answers about China’s second stealth fighter model.”
China launched the first prototype of the J-20 version two years ago. The Telegraph reports the J-20 is not expected to enter service until 2018.
The Shenyang J-31
The Shenyang J-31
According to MSN India, the Shenyang J-31 is a lighter version of the heavy J-20, being a "middle sized fighter" equipped with Russian middle-thrust engines, although it is expected that it will later be equipped with Chinese WS-13 engines.
The Telegraph reports that the J-31 appears designed for greater maneuverability, and according to military expert Andrei Chang, its landing gear suggests it is designed to be launched from an aircraft carrier.
Chang said the J-31 looks similar to the "fifth" generation of US stealth fighters, but equipped with less powerful engines and less sophisticated anti-radar devices.
China's fighter aircraft are being developed in collaboration with Pakistan and the engines are imported from Russia, MSN India reports.
The Telegraph reports that developing indigenous stealth fighters has proved very challenging for the Chinese military industry and China is still working to develop capable engines for its new fighters. Observers say the challenges mean that the new Chinese aircraft are unlikely to go into production for nearly a decade.
Chang said: "It will take at least seven or eight years before it can be commercially sold." Chang noted that the test was timed to coincide with the run-up to China's leadership transition next month. He said: "I think the regime is trying to show off to their colleagues that the Hu Jintao regime achieved a lot for China."
The Telegraph reports that investments over the decade in the Chinese military technology industry has seen China move from the world's largest importer of arms in 2007 to the fourth largest in 2011.
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