I'm quite confused about all the carrier-based fighter aircraft projects in China. Could you help me determine which are the different acronyms (same of different?).

According to wikipedia, there are three possible aircrafts aboard the most recent Chinese air carrier:

  • Shenyang J-15, which is already in service aboard Liaoning
  • Chengdu J-20
  • Shenayang J-31

But looking in the internet, I also found the J-21 that looks like an extension of the J-20. And there is also the newly shown, stealthy, J-35.

Are all those designs similar? What are the differences and the advantages of each of them, since having three diffferent types of aircraft aboard a single carrier is not good idea (speaking about maintenance)?

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    $\begingroup$ Did you know the Ford class aircraft carriers carry more than 8 types of aircraft? $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I did not know and fast check on internet does not give the type of aircraft. Is it 8 types of fighter aircraft or do you include recon, strike...? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you're really asking here. The J-15 is a reverse-engineered SU-33, ie a 4 gen fighter which is expected to be in use until the J-20 and/or J-31 (both are 5th gen) will be available. If you are asking for specific differences between the 3, then skimming through the wikipedia articles on each should provide more than enough information (which I presume any one that will attempt to answer this question will do anyway) $\endgroup$
    – DeepSpace
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ Your question didn't focus on fighter aircraft, as far as I know, the Ford can handle all Navy aircraft including the F-18, E/A-18, and F-35. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Jpe61, yeah, sorry I didn't make it more clear. I can't fathom why the Navy kept the 18 designation for a completely different airframe that is only visually similar to its predecessor. But, it may be useful to share what carriers consider "similar", at least from a recovery standpoint. There are 3 critical parameters that need to be met to safely catch an airplane: 1. Arresting gear setting for the max landing weight; 2. Minimum recovery headwind; 3. Lens setting to accommodate airframe differences in hook-to-eye distance. Between the E2 and C2, all three parameters are different. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 16:54

1 Answer 1


First, the J-15 is a 4th generation multirole fighter, the western counterpart for it woud be the F/A 18E. While it is still in production and fully capable, it lacks, first and foremost, the stealth properties of 5th gen fighters such as the J-20 and the J-31. The latter two being considerably more modern can be assumed to generally outperform the J-15 by a considerable margin.

The distinction between J-20 and J-31 is their primary roles: J-20 is an air supremacy fighter such as F-22, while J-31 is designed as a multirole fighter, such as the F-35.

  • $\begingroup$ Ok thank you for the explanation of differences. Are they all planned to enter carrier service? Because for example the F-22 is not on carrier service $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ It is my understanding that current J-20 is not carrier capable. I gathered by the info supplied by you in the question that it might be 🤔 $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ Space is a premium on a carrier so a multi-role fighter is much preferred than single role J-20. This is why Russia retired Su-33 and US retired F-14. So from the very beginning J-20 wasn't designed to be carrier-capable like F-35 or F-14 was. As for J-31 I think it's more for the politics: deploying J-31 on carriers will cause the neighbors to deploy lots of F-35 to counter-balance, which isn't a favorable outcome for China. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 6:01

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