Chinese Stealth Jet ‘Outguns’ Indian AMCA; Puts Pakistan A Generation Ahead Of IAF – Chinese Expert

Pakistan’s plan to acquire the Chinese FC-31/J-31 twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft will put it a generation ahead of its neighbors and make it one of the most advanced air forces in the region, experts believe.

The fighter jet has been flying since 2014 and is ready to be acquired by Chinese or other militaries, while India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is still in the design stage.

This was stated in a recent article in the Chinese state media Global Times (GT). The report came amid Iran and Pakistan trading fire and attacking Baloch separatist groups that hide in each other’s territory and often attack each other’s governments.

The Iranian strike also came close on the heels of the Islamic nation developing a diverse range of kamikaze drones and ballistic missiles.

Experts point out that the strike on Jaish al-Adl camps in Pakistan was meant as a signal to the US and Israel that Tehran will not hesitate to attack proxy groups it perceives are being cultivated by hostile powers.

India sided with and expressed diplomatic solidarity with Iran over threats from Pakistan-based non-state extremist actors. Pakistan then retaliated by firing rockets on Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) camps in Iranian territory.

Capable Fighter

The PAF announced its plan earlier this month when its chief Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Babar Sidhu confirmed the service’s acquisition of the FC-31 stealth fighter.

At an “induction and operationalization” ceremony, Sidhu said the “foundation for acquiring the J-31 stealth fighter has already been laid, which is all set to become part of the PAF’s fleet in the near future.”

Developed by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s (AVIC) Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC), the FC-31/J-31 is a single-seat, twin-engine, medium stealth fighter jet that analysts said is “comparable with, if not superior to, the US’s F-35,” the GT report said. 

FC-31 Gyrfalcon
File Image: FC-31 Gyrfalcon

The jet’s stealth allows it to “first and launch surprise attacks,” the article quoted Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert. The aircraft is expected to have some of the J-20’s sensor fusion and data processing capabilities, hinted by the term “situational awareness” in the report, and can carry air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and bombs. 

The PAF is also familiar with Chinese jets, with the J-10C fighter being the latest one inducted. The others are the JF-17 jets, HQ-9BE long-range surface-to-air missile systems, HQ-16FE medium-range SAMs, and the YLC-8E anti-stealth 3D surveillance radar systems.

‘Pakistan Air Force Will Be Ahead Of Neighbors’

“Pakistan will have no difficulties integrating the FC-31 into its combat systems, and the stealth aircraft will significantly enhance its military capabilities by a generation.

“It will allow the Pakistan Air Force to enjoy a generational gap over its rivals with fast delivery. In contrast, Pakistan’s main rival will not likely get stealth fighter jets anytime soon,” Wei said, hinting at India. 

Moreover, if Pakistan finalizes the deal, other countries, particularly those from the Middle East, could also follow suit. The PAF can demonstrate the FC-31/J-31 in exercises with other countries, generating more interest and affirming its operational capability. 

In its current form, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) commands a clear numerical and technological lead over Iran with a fully operational fleet of modern Chinese J-10C fighters – that also recently exercised with Qatari Eurofighter Typhoons honing the pilots’ tactical skills – US F-16 C/Ds, F-16 Block 50/52 variants and JF-17 Thunders. 

Against India, it is comparable in some areas but still does not command a definitive advantage. However, the induction of the J-31 would enhance PAF capability, especially if the acquisition goes as planned and is inducted before the Indian AMCA is operationalized. The Indian program is undoubtedly delayed, as the project still struggles to field a prototype. 

Conversely, Iran has Cold War-era US-made F-14 Tomcats, F-4 Phantoms, and Russian MiG-29s. Last year, it acquired Russian Yak-130 trainers and is awaiting the arrival of Su-35S fighters, its first significant aviation acquisition in years.

The Persian nation is far from being an aerial threat, and in the event relations with Pakistan worsen further, the PAF will undoubtedly dominate. However, given the unfolding diplomacy between the two after the clashes, it appears that neither Tehran nor Islamabad wish a war or a deterioration in relations since both feel they have other pressing regional concerns. 

Iran has long been engaged in fighting a proxy war against the US in Iraq and against both the US and Iran in Syria and Lebanon. The wars in Gaza and the tensions in the Red Sea are challenging Tehran’s regional supremacy, which it cannot afford to lose.

On the other hand, Pakistan cannot risk making an enemy on its western front, with India being its primary and only adversary on its east. 

Above all, both countries perceive that permanent hostility benefits the US. Iran has always been determined to prevent any geopolitical development that hands the US sweeping leverage in its immediate and expanded neighborhood.   

AMCA Still Under Development

The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) announced in September 2021 that the AMCA will make its first flight in 2025, with squadron induction by 2035. That timeline is likely to be missed.  

The Integrated Wind Tunnel (IWT) model of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA)

The J-35, on the contrary, publicly flew for the first time on November 12, 2014, during the Zhuhai Air Show. An improved prototype, with airframe modifications, an electro-optical targeting system, a larger payload, improvements in stealth, and upgraded electronics, made its maiden flight in December 2016.

By late 2018, reports suggested that the program received government funding and interest from PLAAF and PLAN. By June 2020, a third variant of the J-31 with a bigger radar and some radar signature reduction measures had been developed. Some started calling the new fighter the J-35.

The naval variant of the aircraft reportedly made its maiden flight on October 29, 2021. It was modified with a catapult bar and folding wings and was meant to operate from the under-development Type 003 aircraft carrier with an electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System.

Retired IAF Mirage-2000 pilot and director of the Center for Air Power Studies (CAPS) Air Marshal Anil Chopra acknowledged in a previous article for the EurAsian Times that the fighter can evolve into a credible aerial platform in the context of the PAF plans to acquire it.

“It will give better strike power and may change the dynamics in the subcontinent till India acquires its own,” Chopra said.