China's main priority is to work on and unveil an upgraded version of its Chengdu Aircraft J-10 fighter, with the development of a fifth-generation fighter likely to wait until that is almost completed.
"Research and development is under way to improve the J-10 to develop a more powerful variant," says Wang Yawei, president of AVIC Defence, the military arm of state-owned aircraft manufacturer China Aviation Industry (AVIC). "This will take a bit of time and we are confident we will have a very good fourth-generation fighter when this is completed.
"We will gain a lot of knowledge and information from this development. By focusing on the fourth-generation fighter, we will be able to shorten the time needed to develop a new generation of fighters. After that, we will be able to undertake the development and production of a fifth-generation fighter."
Wang's remarks play down a recent statement by Ho Weirong, deputy commander of the Chinese air force, who said during a television interview that a fifth-generation fighter could be unveiled within 10 years.
China reportedly has several indigenous aircraft programmes under way, including plans for new fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, plus attack and utility helicopters, airborne early warning aircraft, trainers and transport aircraft. Various categories of unmanned air vehicles are also being developed.
Wang says the company has state support to develop all of these. AVIC Defence will use the expertise gathered by the separate factories that existed before a reorganisation of the industry in recent years, to make a co-ordinated effort to develop aircraft, he adds.
Exports of the J-10 are also unlikely until the company successfully develops and puts into service an upgraded J-10B in China, says Ma Zhiping, president of China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corp (Catic), which markets Chinese-made military aviation products globally.
"There is a lot of interest in the J-10 and several countries and air forces have been in touch with us," says Ma. "However, we are not looking to actively market the J-10 until it is sufficiently powerful."
Earlier this month, reports out of Pakistan - a long-time customer of Chinese military aircraft - claimed that the country had signed a memorandum of understanding to buy 36 J-10Bs worth about $1.4 billion. Islamabad is keen on eventually acquiring around 150 J-10Bs, which it will designate as FC-20s, with deliveries to start from 2014-15. The type would supplement its Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 light fighters and Lockheed Martin F-16s.
"Pakistan is Catic's best friend," says Ma. "It is normal that Pakistan has this desire to procure the J-10. However, we have not signed any deal with anyone yet."