Will Pakistan Buy Chinese FC-31 Stealth Fighter Jets?

By A Correspondent
A model of China’s FC-31 stealth fighter jet is on display at the Airshow China 2021 in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province. (Photo: Liu Xuanzun/ courtesy Global Times)
Pakistan recently unveiled its intention to acquire FC-31 stealth fighter jets from China, a strategic move that experts believe will not only significantly enhance the capabilities of the Pakistan Air Force but also create opportunities for the Chinese aircraft in the global market, establishing a mutually beneficial cooperation,  a leading Chinese newspaper reported.

Pakistan’s Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu made the announcement on Jan 2 at an induction ceremony for new equipment — which included J-10C Firebird fighters. He said the FC-31 would enter service in the near future.

Later the PAF announced its transformative modernization initiative through a press release on its social media platforms. A pivotal aspect of this strategic shift is the procurement of fifth-generation stealth fighter jets, with the foundation for their induction into the PAF already laid.

The accompanying video revealed that the chosen fifth-generation stealth fighter jet for induction is China’s FC-31, confirming earlier media reports of Pakistan’s interest in acquiring this aircraft. Developed independently by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the FC-31 is a single-seat, twin-engine, medium stealth fighter jet. According to state-run Chineses daily Global Times, analysts contend that it is comparable to, if not superior to, the US’ F-35 in terms of capabilities.

Priced at a whopping 70 million dollars a piece, the FC-31 is intended to be used for different missions, including air superiority, ground attack, and reconnaissance. The FC-31 incorporates stealth technology, advanced avionics, and other features commonly associated with fifth-generation jets.

According to. AeroTime, U.S. military and industry officials believe that J-31 will likely outperform current fourth-generation fighters such as the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. “However, its effectiveness against the latest fighters like the US-made F-22 and F-35 would depend on various factors including the quantity of J-31 aircraft deployed, the skill level of pilots, and the capabilities of its radar systems and other sensors,” it added in a report on the world’s most expensive fighter jets.  

GT quoted Wei Dongxu, a military expert based in Beijing, as saying that the FC-31 boasts strong comprehensive air combat capabilities, including stealth advantages that enable it to detect opponents first and launch surprise attacks. The aircraft also exhibits exceptional situational awareness and can carry a diverse range of munitions, encompassing air-to-air missiles, precision bombs, air-to-ground missiles, and air-to-surface missiles.

The Pakistan Air Force, a longstanding user of Chinese weaponry, has no challenges integrating the FC-31 into its combat systems. Experts predict that the addition of this stealth aircraft will elevate Pakistan’s military capabilities by a generation.

Furthermore, the expedited delivery of the FC-31 will provide the Pakistan Air Force with a generational advantage over its rivals, particularly since Pakistan’s main competitor is not expected to acquire stealth fighter jets in the near future, according to Wei.

Beyond the immediate benefits for Pakistan, the acquisition plan is seen as advantageous for China. If Pakistan finalizes the deal, other countries, especially those from the Middle East, may follow suit. Joint exercises with other nations could showcase the capabilities of the FC-31, potentially attracting more customers and highlighting the competitiveness of Chinese aircraft on the global stage, as suggested by Wei.

Strengths and benefits of FC-31 aside, it is still not clear how many of these jets Pakistan intends to acquire. Also, it is not clear how Pakistan will finance such an expensive defense equipment given the dire state of its economy. China has emerged as pakistan’s main weapons supplier and has history of offering long term and flexible financing for Islamabad’s weapons shopping.

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