The chief designer of the Shenyang J-15 fighter has compared the aircraft to the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, and suggests that the developmental J-31 could one day serve aboard Chinese aircraft carriers.
In an interview with Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Chinese aircraft designer Sun Cong said that the J-15 is "generally close to the US F/A-18, reaching world class standards".
He adds that the J-15 could have a combat radius of over 1,000km (540nm) if powered by domestic engines. This comment could corroborate reports that the J-15s conducting flight tests aboard the aircraft carrier Liaoning are powered by Russia's Saturn AL-31F, and not the domestically produced Shenyang WS-10A.
For its part, in December 2012, the defence ministry said the J-15 is powered by the WS-10A. Industry observers, however, are dubious about this claim owing to Beijing's well-known struggles with jet engine technology.
In the interview, an abstract of which was published on China's defence ministry website, he said that developing the J-15 presented special challenges. Aside from a requirement to have equal "combat capability" to land-based aircraft, naval fighters must also have exceptional low speed performance for landing on a carrier deck.
In the version of the interview published on the People's Daily website, Sun said that he hoped the J-31 would become China's next carrier-borne fighter. This section of the interview was excluded from the version on the defence ministry's website.
Beijing's plans for the J-31 is unclear. It is uncertain whether it is designed as a competitor or complimentary type to the larger Chengdu J-20. A model resembling the J-31 was also shown in the AVIC hall during Airshow China in Zhuhai in November, which could suggest that Beijing seeks a foreign partner in the programme.