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

Dec 27 2012 - 7 Comments
By Michael Glynn

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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  • nico

    I have asked a few questions/posts before about this on different forums. I seriously doubt on the combat prowess of these jets using ski jump technique. Notice how there are almost no pictures/videos from the Russian (we will see as we go about the Chinese) of these jets regularly taking off with weapons. You always see USN jets catapulting with weapons. Is it just so restraining on payload/range or does it just kill the life of the engines? Does it affect a lot more the airframe life than we think? Finally, one also has to wonder about how fast you can generate sorties compared to a USN carrier using catapults?

  • GovernmentObserver

    With anti-air capabilities like Patriot, Japan does not have much to worry about. I’d much rather be on an Aegis destroyer or cruiser than in the cokpit of a J-15.

    • Dawei Cheng

      Japan don’t have to worry about it

      may be another pearl harbor attack

  • Jaguar

    Will the Chinese be able to park this baby in the Senkakus? I might laugh again when I see another grounded ship of the PLAN.

    • rmc

      Do you laugh when Americans ground their ships? Because then you would get to laugh a lot more often.

    • topolcats

      Well I am laughing now when I see a picture of a US navy ship grounded on a Philippine reef!
      Which has to pay compensation to her puppy dog manila in order that Manila can export more prostitutes to the USA!…. LMAO

  • Dc

    Let me just say the greater western media tries to downgrade Chinese military technologies. The better for the Chinese government.