Military Aviation

How China’s copycat culture led to the development of the Shenyang J-31, the Chinese F-35

An industry in which Chinese cloning has excelled to a disconcerting degree is the manufacture of weapon systems.

Apr. 21, 2021 was National Look Alike Day. As the US Naval Institute highlitghted on its Facebook Page, the Chinese military is full of weapons that look a lot like systems developed by other nations. The Shenyang J-31 is an attempt to copy the Lockheed Martin F-35.

Although historically, China has been a great innovator (contributing inventions such as gunpowder, paper and the compass) to human advancement, in recent decades China has earned an international reputation as being the home of a prolific copycat culture.

Fake Apple stores, counterfeit KFC restaurants and imitation IKEA big-box outlets dot the Chinese landscape: as explained by USNI News, the Chinese have become proficient at cloning products ranging from designer handbags and the latest smartphones to movies and alcoholic beverages.

According to some Western observers believe this cultural attitude towards imitation is rooted in Confucianism where followers traditionally learned by replicating masterworks and then tried to improve upon them.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

Today Chinese recognize the dubious nature of the current practice: in fact the refer to imitation products as “Shanzhai” (a term that means “mountain stronghold” and that was originally applied to pirate factories producing counterfeit goods in remote areas beyond the reach of regulatory control).

Government officials have embraced the copycat business and they seem content to allow other nations to develop products and technology which they can then acquire legitimately through licensing or illegitimately through counterfeiting and espionage. This approach allows China to stay competitive on the world stage while saving them the time and money it would cost to develop their own products.

An industry in which Chinese cloning has excelled to a disconcerting degree is the manufacture of weapon systems. China’s expanding military and growing assertiveness has been bolstered by weapons cloned from the arsenals of other countries. Bleeding edge U.S. aircraft including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have Chinese counterparts that are remarkably similar.

The Chinese counterpart of the F-35 is the Shenyang J-31.

The J-31 (F-60) is a fifth-generation, multi-role, twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft being manufactured for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, an affiliate of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). It is the second stealth fighter that China has indigenously developed after the J-20.

The J-31 fighter jet is intended to provide advanced defence capabilities in close-air support, aerial bombing and air interdiction operations. According to Air Force Technology, it can also perform suppression of enemy air defences and can be used as a carrier-based fighter on aircraft carriers.

Noteworthy some of the technology used in J-31 and other designs was almost certainly acquired by means of a Chinese cyber spying campaign.

Moreover, US Defense Officials also suspect that China has managed to obtain valuable technical advances by making backroom deals with US allies that bought American weapons. The US decided not to export the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter for this reason.

Even though Chinese clone weapons may not yet have the quality and capabilities of the originals, US military and industry officials expressed concern that the ongoing sophisticated cyber espionage campaign will allow China to rapidly improve their arsenal and even soon produce aircraft that will match all aspects of US fifth generation fighters like the F-22 and F-35.

This model is available from AirModels! CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and wc via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

Recent Posts

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works tests U-2 new advanced capabilities in first flight of the Dragon Lady’s Avionics Tech Refresh program

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, in partnership with the US Air Force, completed the first flight… Read More

16 hours ago

When the Warthog became Snowhog: the story of the A-10 that received a unique arctic camouflage

Not long after arriving at Eielson, A-10 Warthog 80-221 was repainted in an arctic camouflage… Read More

16 hours ago

The story of the Royal Air Force CF-105 Arrow All-Weather Fighters that Never Were

It was on the basis of the Arrow’s future potential, more than CF-105 then-current design,… Read More

2 days ago

The Argentine Air Force may buy surplus CH-46 Sea Knight medium-lift helicopter stored at 309 AMARG

The Argentine Air Force may give new life to the Boeing CH-46 medium-lift helicopter, retired… Read More

2 days ago

Vietnam could buy the F-16 Block 70/72, the newest and most advanced Viper production configuration

The Biden administration is in talks with Vietnam over an agreement for the largest arms… Read More

3 days ago