Flight of the ‘Gryfalcon’

The new generation MMRCA for PLAN is getting ready to take-off

Prasun K. Sengupta

An industrial consortium led by China’s Shenyang Aircraft Corp (SAC) has been formally entrusted with the task of developing and series-producing the definitive new-generation aircraft carrier-based medium-weight multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN).

Shenyang FC-31 Gryfalcon MMRCA

Nicknamed the ‘Gryfalcon’, this MMRCA will be a navalised derivative of the FC-31 stealthy technology demonstrator (TD) that was unveiled at China’s Zhuhai Airshow in November 2014. A land-based MMRCA variant is being developed for its launch customer - the Pakistan Air Force — which presently does not possess any twin-engined deep-strike interdictor platforms (its entire fleet of combat aircraft presently comprises single-engined aircraft) and therefore remains deeply interested in procuring about 80 such MMRCAs.

The SAC-led industrial consortium includes its No.112 Factory, the 601 Research Institute (Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute), 603 Aircraft Design Institute (later named the First Aircraft Institute of AVIC-I) and the 606 Institute (Shenyang Aero-engine Research Institute). The FC-31 TD’s (No.31001) maiden flight took place on 31 October 2012. It has been designed to carry an eight-tonne weapons payload (including four precision-guided munitions totalling two tonnes internally and 6 tonnes being carried on six external hard-points). It has a combat radius of 648 nautical miles (1,200km) and a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 25 tonnes. The fuselage length is 16.8 metres, while the wingspan is 11.5 metres, and the height is 4.8 metres. The maximum attainable speed is Mach 1.8, and the power-plant comprises two 85kN thrust-rated Klimov RD-93 turbofans imported off-the-shelf from Russia’s Moscow-based Chernyshev Machine-Building Plant, a division of the United Engines Corp (UEC).

First flight of the FC-31’s definitive prototype took place on 23 December 2016, which revealed that the length of the ‘Gryfalcon’ had been increased from 16.8 metres to 17.5 metres, while the MTOW now stands at 28 tonnes. In addition, the wheel-wells were significantly smaller, allowing for a larger internal weapons bay capable of accommodating up to eight tonnes of armaments. In addition, a twin nose gear and cropped vertical stabilisers were incorporated, as was a chin-mounted electro-optic targeting sensor (EOTS-86) under the nose. The power-plant comprised twin Klimov RD-93MA turbofans that incorporated full authority digital engine controls (FADEC) and a gearbox located at the bottom front-end of the engine casing. The RD-93MA has a service-life of 4,000 hours, and a total thrust rating at 94kN.

The ‘Gryfalcon’ will feature a glass cockpit containing panoramic active-matrix liquid crystal displays, hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls, and a helmet-mounted display system. The principal on-board beyond-the-horizon sensor will be the KLJ-7A multi-mode radar with an active electronically-steered antenna array that is now undergoing developmental flight-tests. The airframe will also accommodate an internally-mounted self-defence suite comprising a self-protection wideband jammer, radar warning receivers and missile-approach warning sensors in a distributed aperture configuration. Primary armament for air combat will include two types of new-generations beyond-visual range air-to-air missiles — a medium-range variant and a long-range variant now undergoing development, plus PL-10E short-range air-to-air missiles. For maritime strike, a smaller and lighter variant of the YJ-12 warship-/land-launched supersonic anti-ship cruise missile (whose export designation is CM-302 and has a 290km-range) is now being developed, which will have a range of 180km.

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