China’s Stealth Fighter Is Helping to Sell Cars

J-31 meets SUV

China’s Stealth Fighter Is Helping to Sell Cars China’s Stealth Fighter Is Helping to Sell Cars
Images of China’s J-31 stealth fighter are in high demand given the nature of the technology and rumors about its future. It was odd,... China’s Stealth Fighter Is Helping to Sell Cars

Images of China’s J-31 stealth fighter are in high demand given the nature of the technology and rumors about its future. It was odd, then, that the prototype fifth-generation fighter jet recently appeared in photos posing next to an SUV.

Turns out, the bizarre photographs are not an advertisement for the J-31 but for an SUV called the X5 by Hanteng Autos, a relative newcomer to the Chinese auto industry that is now, apparently, trying to ride on the J-31’s wing flaps.

The ad stressed that the SUV — painted in highly-symbolic red — symbolizes “industrial strength” and “national strength,” just like the fighter jet.

So, this is a marketing attempt by a new company to tie its SUV to nationalism and the military. What’s more curious is the presence of the fighter, which was developed by the state-owned Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. The J-31, officially the FC-31, is a unusual for Chinese fighter jets in that it’s a stealth plane which might not ever see service in the Chinese military, at least in its present form.

Above, at top and below — the J-31 as car salesman. Photos via Chinese Internet

Think of it as more of a demonstrator aircraft for a future fighter — a J-31 mockup has appeared aboard the carrier Liaoning — and as a marketable product for potential foreign buyers such as, perhaps, Iran or Pakistan. It’s now also way to help sell sport utility vehicles. But one of China’s biggest problems with the J-31 has been finding a buyer willing to walk off the lot with it.

Generally speaking, the J-31 is a competitor to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It’s about the same size and weight, although the J-31 is less stealthy and lacks the advanced avionics and communications hardware of the JSF — although a second, enlarged and heavier J-31 which first flew in December 2016 came with a new infrared sensor.

These two prototypes are the only J-31s publicly known to exist.

The J-31, to the designers’ credit, has two engines instead of the F-35’s single turbofan, and the Chinese fighter doesn’t have an internal lift fan like the F-35B, which forced design compromises inside the other two JSF versions, making them very hot and reducing aerodynamic performance. This is the source of speculation that China — perhaps informed by the F-35’s design files — set out to build the J-31 as an F-35 without repeating some of the F-35’s mistakes.

The second J-31 prototype also featured smokeless engines, unlike the first prototype, enhancing stealthiness. An operational version might one day be heavily armed with 12 air-to-air missiles, befitting its role as an air-superiority fighter — although, again, it will need to find a buyer. Maybe the Chinese navy. Maybe another country that will not or cannot buy F-35s but wants to compete.

In any case, let’s hope future customers make sure it comes with a warranty.