Chinese J35 Airforce variant for PLAAF and PAF

The best evidence has emerged of renewed work on a Land-Based Variant Chinese J35 Airforce variant for PLAAF and PAF. Progressively clearer photos of one of Shenyang’s prototype fighters seem to reveal key features different from those found on the carrier-based J-35, on which development had been more recently focused. The jet appears to have a smaller wing area, single nose wheel, and no launch bar compared to the naval version traits better suited for land operations.

Export Market Potentia

l One likely driver is export interesse, with Pakistan already announcing plans to acquire the export FC-31 model. Many air forces seek cost-effective replacements for aging 4th-generation jets that offer stealth features and modern avionics without the restrictions of the F-35. An improved FC-31 could find a lucrative market.

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Domestic Considerations for PLAAF

However, there are also compelling reasons for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) to induct a land-based J-31/J-35 variant. While the J-20 is the PLAAF’s frontline stealth fighter, adding a lower-cost complementary type could allow swifter replacement of aging J-10s and J-11s as the service modernizes.

Balancing Cost and Capability

The J-31 could provide a balanced blend of advanced stealth capabilities at lower procurement and operating costs compared to the larger J-20. This would mirror the U.S. model of a high-low stealth fighter mix. For China, it ensures Shenyang remains a fighter manufacturer alongside Chengdu’s J-20 line.

Role of Unmanned Teaming

Decisions may also hinge on PLAAF plans for unmanned wingmen that could be assigned air combat roles more economically than manned fighters. A two-seat J-31 variant could potentially control such drone force multipliers.

As China pursues military aerospace superiority, developing a land-based J-35 variant allows balancing cost, capability, and industrial considerations. An advanced but more affordable complementary fighter could accelerate PLAAF modernization and provide China’s aerospace industry a major export platform.

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