The picture in this post features the clearest image to date of China’s future carrier-borne stealth fighter known as the J-35.
Surfaced last week on Chinese social media Weibo and likely taken at the Harbin Aircraft Industry Group test facility in Harbin, the picture in this post features the clearest image to date of China’s future carrier-borne stealth fighter known as the J-35.
Designed by Shenyang, the twin engine aircraft will be flown by the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) from China’s future Type-003 Fujian-class aircraft carriers.
According to Naval News, the high-resolution picture shows the third J-35 prototype with tail number 350003 as well as several other interesting details:
- The fighter features an IRST sensor under the nose. It looks similar to the F-35’s Electro-Optical Target System (EOTS) and likely has a similar role.
- The engines feature sawtooth nozzles. This is to reduce heat signature and therefore improve stealth in the infra-red (IR) spectrum.
- The main landing gear is “beefed up” to allow for CATOBAR operations. Sadly, the front landing gear is hidden by a technician and we cannot see the presence of a “launch bar”, typically used for catapult launch. But previous, lower quality, images of the J-35 in flight showed the launch bar on the front landing gear.
- The radar dome (at the nose) appears to be canted. This likely indicates the presence of a tilted Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar antenna.
- The cockpit shows the presence of a good old head-up display (HUD), while on the F-35, the HUD is replaced by an advanced helmet mounted display system (HMDS).
- The canopy configuration and its opening are similar to that of the F-35.
- The tip of the vertical stabilizer shows the “flying shark” logo, typically seen on J-15 carrier borne fighters currently deployed on the PLAN’s Liaoning and Shandong carriers.
The folding wings featured by the airframe were clearly visible in the earlier pictures of the unpainted aircraft. Folding wings are used to reduce the footprint when stored onboard the carrier. But this is almost impossible to tell when looking at the picture of 350003 (potentially indicating a high level of quality).
Although most open sources call it “J-35” or “J-XY, according to Naval News, the official designation of China’s new twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft is not known yet, some even calls it a variant of the FC-31. A full-size mock-up of the stealth plane first appeared in June 2021 on a full-sized mock-up of a real Chinese Navy aircraft carrier, located at Wuhan land based testing facility.
The aircraft will be operated from the Type-003 Fujian-class aircraft carriers the first of which was launched in June. The Type-003 is China’s biggest most modern and most powerful aircraft carrier. As reported by News18, at 80,000 tons and 318 meters, the Fujian is named after the Chinese province that sits across from Taiwan.
Unlike Liaoning and Shandong, the other two People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carriers, that feature a ski jump (a ramp at the bow of the ship that helps jets take off from the carrier’s short runway), Fujian is reported to have electromagnetic catapult launch systems (EMALS).
The ski jump launches are extremely restrictive as they impose big constraints on the size, weight and payload of the aircraft being launched. Instead EMALS’ main advantage is that it accelerates the aircraft more smoothly, putting less stress on their airframes. Furthermore, it weighs and costs less and also requires less maintenance than a steam piston-driven system. It also reduces the carrier’s requirement for fresh water, thus reducing the demand for energy-intensive desalination. Most US carriers have steam-driven catapults except the new USS Gerald Ford class.
Photo credit: Weibo