Family Resemblance? China’s J-31 Stealth Fighter Looks An Awful Lot Like the F-35

Here’s What You Need to Remember: Improvements or changes to the J-31 likely continue a long-standing pattern of China’s apparent and somewhat visible effort to copy, steal, or mirror designs used for the U.S. F-35.

Chinese media reports are now referencing new photos of the emerging J-31 5th-Gen stealth fighter appearing on social media, ostensibly showing various design improvements to the new radar-evading multi-role aircraft.

A May 5th report in the Global Times, an English Language Chinese newspaper, says the new photos show an …. “upgraded version with modifications made to its aerodynamic design just like the prototype that made its maiden flight in 2016, instead of the original version that made its public debut at Airshow China in 2014.”

Improvements or changes to the J-31 likely continue a long-standing pattern of China’s apparent and somewhat visible effort to copy, steal, or mirror designs used for the U.S. F-35. Virtually all photos and renderings of the J-31, since first unveiled, revealed a striking resemblance to the U.S. F-35. This does not come to the surprise of many in the U.S., given China’s well-known and documented cyberespionage efforts. A 2014 “U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission” Congressional report specifically cites a Defense Science Board finding that Chinese cyber attacks resulted in the theft of significant specs and technical details of a range of U.S. weapons systems—including the F-35.

At the same time, a 2018 Pentagon news story about DoD’s annual China report mentions that apparent similarities between the F-35 and Chinese J-20 could very well be a result of espionage. A cursory look at the J-20 does appear to show some resemblance to the F-35, particularly the blended wing-body front end and internally built, conformal exhaust pipes. These similarities do appear, despite the apparent differences, as the J-20 has a wider and longer lower-body. However, available photos show an even larger measure of similarity between the F-35 and Chinese J-31 multi-role fighter.

As recently as last year, another Global Times report said the J-31 showed design improvements at the 2019 Paris Air Show. Photos from the story reveal profound visual similarities between the F-35 and J-31. This is not without precedent, as the Chinese media itself has noted similarities between the two aircraft. Portions of a story from the Chinese government’s “People’s Daily Online” as far back as 2013 specifically cites design similarity between the emerging Chinese J-31 and the F-35, writing that the “J-31 and F-35 use the same DSI inlet (non-boundary layer-separated lane supersonic inlet).” The only major difference, the paper notes, is that the U.S. has an F-35B Short Take Off and Landing variant and that the J-31 uses two engines compared to the F-35’s single engine propulsion configuration.

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