China’s New Stealth Fighter Could Defeat F-35, AVIC Chief Says

China’s newest stealth fighter would be able to “finish off” a U.S. F-35 in head-to-head combat, the chairman of its manufacturer said.

The J-31, developed by the Shenyang subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China, known as AVIC, will appeal to “cost conscious” global customers, AVIC Chairman Lin Zuomin said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV that aired Dec. 7. Asked about the J-31’s combat ability compared to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Lin replied: “The J-31 will finish it off in the sky.”

The J-31 made its debut last month at the Zhuhai Air Show and is China’s version of the so-called fifth-generation fighters such as the F-35 that are less visible to infrared sensors and can cruise at supersonic speeds.

“These are the kinds of statements that make my jaw drop to the ground -- where is the proof?” said Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “What is its turn radius? What kind of avionics does it carry? Let alone weapons? This is just a nice piece of jingoistic nationalism.”

Speaking in the same interview, J-31 designer Sun Cong said he considered the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter a “potential opponent” when drawing up the plans for the Chinese plane. Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp. produces the F-35, which is being marketed in Asia and around the world and is the U.S Defense Department’s most expensive weapons program to date.

The J-31 is one of two known Chinese next-generation fighters, with the J-20 manufactured by a Chengdu AVIC subsidiary for the People’s Liberation Army.

“The good thing about this fighter is, along with the development of the technology, the J-31 can can be updated,” said Lin. “It will eventually beat the F-35 at all levels.”

China hasn’t said how much the J-31 will cost. In October, the Pentagon valued a production batch of 43 F-35’s at $4.55 billion, or $105.8 million per plane.

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, and David Tweed

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