3rd Chinese J-35 Stealth Fighter Prototype Surfaces Online, Expert Calls It ‘Ideal For Low Observability’

A set of fresh images of Chinese J-35 carrier-capable aircraft have surfaced on the internet, with military watchers and netizens speculating that it could be the aircraft’s third prototype.

The images that show the J-35 from below were first shared on a Chinese Weibo microblogging website earlier this month before being shared extensively across the internet. The J-35 is a naval variant of the land-based Shenyang FC-31 fifth-generation stealth aircraft.

It is unclear exactly when these photographs were taken. However, Hui Tong of the Chinese Military Aviation blog revealed that the images were taken as the aircraft neared the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation in Liaoning during a test flight. Military bloggers and netizens have been making claims that this may be the third J-35 prototype.

The first flying J-35 prototype allegedly took off in October 2021 with the serial number 350001 and a blue-green primer finish. Then, in July 2022, 350003, the second known flying J-35 prototype, was sighted sporting a low-visibility tactical gray paint job. The prototype number of the recently spotted J-35 is reported to be ’3505,’ giving the impression that it could be the third flying prototype of the aircraft.

The EurAsian Times, however, could not independently verify the claims.

Incidentally, the photo comes at a time when there are increasing signs that the J-35 may soon be flown out of China’s two operational carriers, Type 001 Liaoning and Type 002 Shandong, as well as future carriers equipped with arrestor gear and catapults, such as the upcoming Type 003 Fujian.

The photos provide a clear view of the aircraft’s underbelly. Explaining the aircraft’s appearance in graphic detail, The WarZone wrote that the J-35’s skin was fairly smooth for low-observability. The J-35 has serrated petals on its nozzles and seems to be equipped with a ventral bolt-on Luneburg lens, which is a radar reflector commonly used on stealth fighters when low observability is not required.

The photos come days after other images showing a dummy J-35 fifth-generation carrier-capable aircraft sitting on the deck of the Liaoning aircraft carrier were posted on social media in late February. The jet is still in the development and testing phase but has somehow been projected as the Chinese alternative to the US F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets.

At that time, military analysts said the photographs indicated that the deck handling trials would likely resume on the Liaoning since it had completed the refurbishment process. The presence of the J-35 and the new J-15 variants on the Liaoning also implies China’s intention to deploy these aircraft on its two operational carriers.

Images of China’s classified, sophisticated weapon systems are regularly shared on social media despite the country’s strict internet controls. In December 2023, the Ministry of State Security announced that individuals capturing images of sensitive military equipment could face imprisonment.

The ministry also added that photographing such equipment without permission posed a grave threat to national security. However, that has not deterred photographers from posting pictures online, like that of the J-35.

China’s J-35s To Fly From Liaoning & Shandong

The J-35, referred to by experts as the carrier-based variant of the FC-31 or J-31 Gyrfalcon, represents a fifth-generation aircraft developed by China’s state-owned Shenyang Aircraft Corporation for the People’s Liberation Army.

Specifically designed for use in naval operations, the base J-35 has been updated with characteristics including a cockpit layout and canopy modeled after the F-35B, which allows for less visibility behind it, stronger landing gear, and a catapult launch bar. It also has foldable outer-wing panels to reduce its footprint when parked or moving about on the carrier deck.

With its sophisticated, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, the aircraft is designed to make use of a range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons manufactured in China.

J-35: Image for Representation

In December 2023, a suspected mockup of the J-35 appeared on the deck of the Chinese Navy’s latest aircraft carrier, the Fujian. Originally, expectations were that the J-35s would be designated for China’s next-generation carriers, which would utilize catapults instead of the ‘ski jump’ ramps for aircraft takeoffs.

The introduction of the J-35 was long thought to be intimately related to the development of the future catapult-assisted takeoff but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) carriers by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

It was long believed that China would continue to use J-15 fighters from Shandong and Liaoning, both of which are capable of short takeoff but arrested recovery (STOBAR) missions. Future CATOBAR carriers with greater capability, like Fujian, will have air wings with J-35s and J-15 CATOBAR variants, among other planes and unmanned aerial vehicles.

However, the sighting of the J-35 mockup on the Liaoning has hinted at the possibility of the stealth fighter being deployed on China’s first two carriers, both lacking catapults.