China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning and its J-15s are the protagonists of a celebratory Top Gun-type video.
In order to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Chinese state-owned aerospace and defense company AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China), commissioned a music video featuring the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighter.
Footage is quite interesting, with cockpit and flight deck scenes. The soundtrack is not as cool.
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.
Although it’s still decades away from achieving a combat capability comparable to that of the U.S. Navy, China’s People Liberation Army Navy is trying to fill the gap quite quickly.
According to Alert5, the first arrested landing on Liaoning took place on Oct. 21 with a J-15 piloted by a China Flight Test Establishment pilot.
On Nov. 20, PLANAF (People Liberation Army Navy Air Force) performed the first successful arrested landing on the Liaoning, China’s first Aircraft Carrier by a made-in-China Shenyang J-15, a multi-role Gen.4.5 plane (based on the Su-33 airframe with Chinese-developed technology).
On Nov. 23, flight ops on the aircraft carrier involved two PLANAF pilots.
Purchased in 1998, the Kutznesov Class 60,000 ton aircraft carrier, previously named “Varyag”, will be used to test qualify Chinese pilots flying with the navalised J-15 as well as to test and validate procedures, equipments for another future operative aircraft carrier (expected no sooner than 2020).
Hence, not only China is currently the only country known to be developing two stealth fighters simultaneously (the J-20 and the J-31) but the successful landings on Liaoning have put its Navy on track for a future role as a maritime power capable to pose a threat to the U.S. naval forces in the Asia-Pacific theatre.