China unveils new stealth fighter, India lags behind
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China has silently unveiled a new stealth fighter aircraft that is likely to take its first flight shortly, indicating that its aerospace industry has matured even faster that most watchers predicted. The new fighter appears smaller and has a slightly different design than the Chinese J 20 that undertook its first flight in January last year.
Photographs of the aircraft — parked at an apron at the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation airfield — have started appearing on Chinese websites over the past few days, along with descriptions that it has a new design that ensures a nimble and faster aerial combat fighter. The aircraft has tentatively been termed as the J 31, mainly because of markings on the side that indicate that it is the first of series of fighters.
Speculation is rife that the fighter could undertake its first flight shortly, which would coincide with the visit of US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to Beijing. Interestingly, China chose to unviel its first stealth aircraft, the J 20, in January 2011 during a visit by Panetta's predecessor, Robert Blake, to Beijing.
While the first few photographs of the new fighter doing the rounds are not very detailed, analysts believe that the J 31 is a lighter combat aircraft than the J 20 and could be similar in size to the US F 35 fighter that is on the verge of being inducted. Photographs indicate it is a twin engine fighter that could be the lighter compliment to the J 20 that could assume the role of a bomber.
More details are expected to emerge over the next few days as the new fighter undertakes its first flight. First photographs of an airframe had appearing in June.
The unveiling comes even as most accounts indicate that India's fifth generation fighters — in collaboration with Russia — are not likely to enter service this decade, with certification itself planned only by 2019.
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