Pakistan to Acquire Chinese Shenyang FC-31 Stealth Fighters?

The impact on Pakistan's interest in the Turkish-made KAAN remains uncertain.
  • bureau
  • 09:38 AM, January 5, 2024
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Pakistan to Acquire Chinese Shenyang FC-31 Stealth Fighters?
Chinese FC-31 stealth fighter @via open sources

Pakistan's Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu has declared the country's intention to acquire the Chinese FC-31 fifth-generation fighter, potentially altering the Pakistan Air Force's fleet dynamics, which was earlier coupled with interest in the Turkish-made KAAN fifth-generation fighter.

The induction of the FC-31, also known as the Shenyang J-31, is anticipated to potentially replace early versions of the F-16 within the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fleet.

Speaking at an induction ceremony for new equipment earlier this week, which included the J-10C Firebird fighters, Air Chief Marshal Sidhu stated, “The foundation for acquiring the J-31 stealth fighter aircraft has already been laid, which is all set to become part of the PAF’s fleet in the near future.”

The J-31 stealth fighters have been noted for their striking resemblance to American F-35 and F-22 aircraft, sparking questions about their origin and capabilities. Reports suggest that China obtained blueprints and classified information on the F-35 and F-22 in 2007, allegedly used in the development of the J-31 stealth aircraft. Recent images indicate a more elongated shape with larger tail surfaces, resembling the F-22.

The impact of this acquisition on Pakistan's expressed interest in Turkey’s KAAN remains uncertain. This move raises questions about its implications for the PAF's operational capabilities, training, and maintenance, especially given the economic challenges faced by the country.

The J-31 acquisition holds strategic importance for Pakistan, potentially providing a subsidy for the Chengdu J-20 heavy fifth-gen fighter program and safeguarding the Pakistani market from European and Turkish fifth-gen options.

Being a smaller aircraft primarily intended for naval operations, the J-31 aligns with Pakistan’s strategy as it expands its fleet of Chinese-made aircraft, including the JF-17 Thunder and J-10C Vigorous Dragon fighters.

Pakistan to Acquire Chinese Shenyang FC-31 Stealth Fighters?
Turkey's KAAN combat aircraft

The full impact of the J-31 acquisition remains uncertain, contingent on factors such as the level of stealth achieved in practice, operational sensors, sensor fusion capabilities, and the delivery timeframe.

Meanwhile, two countries, Azerbaijan and Pakistan, have emerged as potential contenders for partnership in the TF-X KAAN fighter jet project. In August 2023, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler hinted at the possibility of Pakistan joining the initiative. Experts, however, express uncertainty about Pakistan's ability to contribute both technologically and financially, given its economic challenges, potentially burdening Turkey in the project. The collaboration aims to consolidate resources, tap into technological expertise, and distribute the financial burden among participating countries, contributing to the development of a more advanced and capable aircraft.

India, Pakistan’s regional counterpart, is yet to operate a stealth fighter, and the J-31 could serve as a notable asset in this context. New Delhi is currently developing its indigenous stealth fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), expected to be inducted after 2030.

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