Tag Archives: Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag

Examining Chinese Navy’s Shenyang J-15 fighter jet’s Ordnance and Fuel Capabilities

Recent test flights of the Shenyang J-15 fighter aboard the Chinese carrier Liaoning highlighted the development of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) nascent aviation forces. The capabilities and performance of the J-15 invite comparison with other navies that operate carrier-based fixed-wing air assets. The strengths and limitations of the J-15 offer insight into the expected role of first generation Chinese carriers.

The Liaoning is the refurbished ex-Soviet Kuznetsov class carrier Varyag, which was acquired from Ukraine in 2001. The vessel retains conventional arresting gear but is equipped with a ski-jump launch ramp. This configuration requires aircraft with high thrust-to-weight ratios during flight operations. As a result, the takeoff weight, fuel capacity, and ordnance load of the J-15 are limited.

Kuznetsov class carriers such as Varyag were conceived to provide air-cover to Soviet surface action groups. The reduced takeoff weight of the J-15 likely limits the fighter to anti-air warfare missions, armed with a combination of PL-9 and PL-12 missiles. The carriage of air to surface weapons is possible but would greatly restrict fuel loads and resulting combat radii.

Extending the range of the carrier-borne J-15 would require the use of land-based tanker aircraft or carrier based J-15’s equipped with buddy refueling pods. While each J-15 is equipped with an in-flight refueling probe, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) does not possess a mature air refueling capability. The PLAAF operates a small number of HY-6 tanker aircraft. Orders for Russian IL-78 tankers were placed in 2008 but are currently being renegotiated. J-15 aircraft could also utilize the UPAZ-1A buddy refueling pod, although the ability of a navalized Flanker variant to transfer a tactically significant fuel load has yet to be demonstrated in Chinese or Russian service.
Dedicated tanking missions would also severely limit sortie generation rates during combat operations.

The introduction of the J-15 marks a notable milestone in the development of Chinese naval aviation but does not greatly expand PLAN capabilities. The limited ordnance load and combat radius associated with ski-jump equipped carriers are aligned with Chinese anti-access and area denial doctrine, as opposed to the power projection focus of catapult equipped western carriers.

Michael Glynn for theAviationist.com

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Chinese aircraft carrier spotted with mock Shenyang J-15 combat plane on board

As reported by The Dew Line, Flightglobal’s Greg Waldron has found some interesting pictures showing China’s new carrier, the former Soviet vessel, Varyag with a Flanker copy on board.

The most interesting photo, that can be found with a  quick search of the Chinese Internet, is that of what appears to be a modified Shenyang J-15 which is a copy of the Russian Su-33 carrier variant of the Flanker.

FG’s Dave Majumdar points out that the forward fuselage is shorter and fatter, and also the cockpit canopy and the area behind have been modified from earlier known versions of the Chinese J-15 combat plane with what looks like a raised spine.

He speculates that it could be a test aircraft running a new radar or simply a deck handling mock-up.

Indeed, a further search finds evidence that the photos were taken in March 2012 when full size replicas of the J-15 fighter jet and Z-8 helicopter (most probably used for training purposes) were spotted on board the Varyag for the first time.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

Image credit: Chinese Internet/China Defense Forum

China's J-18 Snowy Owl: Myth or Reality?

Over the past year or so, rumours on the Internet have persisted that China has been building a stealthy STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft in a similar vein to the F-35 Lightning II. Pictures of said aircraft are non existant but the rumour mill still persists that it’s either real or will be at some point in the future.

It doesn’t take long looking on the chinese defense forums and websites to see the odd snippet of information, although there is a lot of miss information out there also, of which some could be started by the Chinese government to hide what they are really up to.

The common theme does seem to favour an engine set up similar to the F-35B which in itself wasn’t a new design. Take a look at the Russian Yak 141 and you will see the lift fan at the front and the swivelling jet nozzel at the rear. There is even talk that the engine will be a modified version of what is planned to go into the well documented J-20 when it reaches production. Is this definite? of course not, it doesn’t even appear to be off the drawing board yet and probably will remain so for quite a while (if not indefinately).

Above image of a Russian Yak-141: Chinese Internet

So what will the fabled J-18 Snowy Owl look like if it were to take to the skies?

Well, many analysts favour the canted twin vertical stabilisers high wing design in a similar vein to the F-35 with some sort of lift fan at the front just behind the cockpit. It’s interesting to note that the Yak141 had two lift fans one behind the other and it’s suspected that the J-18 would be the same. The big question is: would it sport one or two engines at the rear?  The rendering below seems to favour two engines both with the swivelling nozzels and a smooth low RCS (Radar Cross Section) fuselage internal weapons bays and other stealthy features.

Above render source: Tiexue.net

Assuming for a moment the aircraft is real and it’s near to flight testing how would China use it?

It has been widely reported that China’s first Aircraft Carrier has been under going sea trials. Again it has been widely reported that China has a navalised version of the J-15, itself  a copy of the Sukhoi SU-30, which is real and is flying so it is hard to see the need unless there is some sort of unknown plan to build smaller carriers in the vein of the USS Wasp to provide maritime support of amphibious forces.

The STOVL project is going to be a huge technological exercise and that is going to take time. The J-18 is likely to remain rumours and internet chatter for a long time to come, and in true Mythbusters style, this Myth is busted at least for now.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

From Greece with love: Russia's aircraft carrier flight ops in the Mediterranean sea

If the Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag, serving as a testbed for the development China’s future naval aviation, is far from being a factor, Russia’s flagship Admiral Kuznetsov, a “heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser”, equipped with an air wing of Sukhoi Su-33s and a dozen long-range anti-ship missiles already plays a role in regional crisis.

Indeed, although the Russian Navy officially denied that the deployment to the Mediterranean Sea off Syria should not be seen as a show of support for the Assad regime facing an uprising, the Russian ships presence in the area comes in a period of growing tensions in the region.

The following video, dated Dec. 30, 2011, was broadcast by the Zvezda TV Channel, the Russian nationwide network run by the Russian Ministry of Defense. It shows the Su-33 of the Kuznetsov conducting flight ops in the Mediterranean sea.

Launches, recoveries (with some aircraft missing the wires too…) and aerobatics in the vicinity of the ship.

According to the latest reports, the Russian warship and its battlegroup are currently operating within the Athinai FIR (Flight Information Region).