Photos of what appears to be a new Chinese stealth fighter recently surfaced on the Internet, triggering a flood of speculation regarding the jet’s potential capabilities and what implications it holds for the evolution of Chinese military air power.
The single-seat, twin-engine fighter has been designated as the J-21 or the J-31, and is the product of Shenyang Aircraft Corp.
The prototype is smaller in size than the J-20 – the other stealth fighter currently under development in China – and parallels the wingspan of the F-35. It features large, angled tail fins reminiscent of those seen on the F-22, as well as what appears to be a sizeable payload bay.
While the authenticity of the photos cannot be confirmed, a number of analysts have voiced their belief that they are likely real. If they are, the simultaneous development of the J-20 and J-21 may suggest China seeks a high-low pairing similar to that of the F-22 and F-35, although some analysts have also proposed the possibility that the J-21 could be under development primarily as an export aircraft.
The debut of the new images coincides with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s trip to China – an event that mirrors the emergence of the first J-20 photos during former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ visit to the country early last year.