A photo of the J-31 stealth fighter prototype. (Internet photo)
While the J-31 stealth fighter is speculated to be China's next-generation carrier-based fighter to replace the J-15, a source from the Chinese defense industry has told the Beijing-based Sina Military Network that it is the PLA Air Force rather than the Navy that is spending money on the fighter's development.
The report indicated that the investment of the PLA Air Force in Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, the designer of the J-31, comes from the same fund prepared for the J-20, China's first stealth fighter prototype developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. This forms part of China's 13th five-year plan (2016-2020), but is not an independent project. At the same time, the source said the PLA Navy did not invest any money in the development of J-31.
Sina Military Network said the development of the J-20 and J-31 should be considered evidence that the PLA Air Force has the capability to operate two types of stealth fighter like the United States Air Force. Since the PLA Air Force must be able to conduct both offensive and defensive missions in the future, aerial combat should not be the only capability China's future stealth fighters have, the report said.
The report said the PLA Air Force needs a stealth fighter that can conduct operations against ground targets as well. It must be able to carry out multiple types of mission including close air support, air interdiction, aerial bombardment and suppression of enemy air defenses. For this reason, the article stated, the heavier J-20 is designed to engage enemy fighters at high altitude while the J-31 is more likely to be used in operations against ground targets at medium or low altitude.