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Chinese Carrier Fighter Now In Serial Production

Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark tail number 108

Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark tail number 108

China has put the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne multirole fighter into serial production, with at least eight production examples known to be flying already. This is in addition to the six J-15 prototypes, some of which conducted carrier trials on board China’s refurbished former Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier, Liaoning.

Undated photos published on Chinese online forums in October showed J-15s bearing the tail numbers 107 and 108 operating from an undisclosed airfield in China. Both aircraft carried the Flying Shark motif on the tail, along with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ensign on the fuselage, similar to all production J-15s seen so far.

Earlier, in October 2013, Chinese state-run media showed news clips of J-15 production facilities at Shenyang Aircraft Corporation in which they revealed a production aircraft said to be being readied for delivery to the PLAN. This was followed by photos of J-15s bearing tail numbers 100, 101, and 102 appearing on the Internet in early December 2013.

Since then, photos of J-15s bearing sequential tail numbers up to 108 (with the exception of 106) have been published. These aircraft are very likely based at the newly constructed base near Huludao, Liaoning Province. Purpose-built as a carrier training facility, the base boasts of 24 shelters for a regiment of fighter-sized aircraft, maintenance hangars, as well as ski-jumps and flight-deck markings that replicate those found on the Liaoning.

With an article in the Chinese-language Shanghai Morning Post published in August saying that Liaoning’s will embark 24 J-15s, it would mean that China is on its way to fielding its complement of carrier-borne fighters.

It is worth noting that all production J-15s seen thus far have been powered by the Russian Saturn AL-31 turbofan engine instead of the locally-developed WS-10 Taihang. The Russian engine is still used in a number of aircraft types in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and PLAN, including the Sukhoi Su-27/30 Flanker and their license-built Shenyang J-11A counterparts, as well as the indigenous Chengdu J-10A/B fighter.

Despite reports of developmental troubles, the stronger WS-10 has been powering Shenyang J-11B (Chinese-built Su-27s with Chinese radar and electronics) land-based fighters built in the past few years for the PLAAF and land-based fighter regiments of the PLAN. Indeed, photos released by the U.S. Navy of the PLAN J-11BH that intercepted a Boeing P-8 Poseidon over the South China Sea in August indicated it was powered by WS-10s.

The WS-10 was also used on at least two of the six J-15 prototypes for a time, although one of the prototypes switched to the AL-31 before its carrier trials on the Liaoning. To date, no WS-10 powered J-15s have been observed in carrier operations. The reason for that reticence to use the WS-10 is unclear, but it is possible that the Chinese are still not satisfied enough with the reliability of the WS-10 to use it for carrier operations.

The Chinese military has acknowledged that it still has a lot to learn about carrier warfare, but there is no doubt that it is making strides in that direction. The limitations of the Liaoning as an aircraft carrier are well known, and it is expected she will serve mostly as a training carrier, building up a core of experienced naval aviators and deck crew.

If reports that China is building more carriers—including ships with catapults for operating aircraft—are true, then it already has a capable platform to work with by the time those ships become operational.

  • Steve Rodocker

    That bird looks like they tried to mesh the F-14 body with F-15 wings

  • 2IDSGT

    I wonder if a CATOBAR J-15 will put any impetus behind proposals to up-engine the Superbug.

  • TheTruth

    If their carrier is in the dire straights as some say it is, not much will matter about the J-15. You got to have a place to fly them from.

  • DWinslow

    Since it’s based on the SU-27 series it’s definitely superior to the F-18.

    • Secundius

      @ DWinslow.

      Maybe not, considering it’s not “Cat” launched, relying solely on its own engines to get it off the carrier deck. Which probably means design changes were made to the airframe. That could cost them in aerial combat…Example, the Martin B-25 Mitchell, Bomber wasn’t designed to operate from the flight deck of a Aircraft Carrier. Those that did, their payload capacity were severely compromised.

    • RedStatePatriot

      That is a ridicules statement to make… If I had a choice between an American F-18 with US avionics, radar, engines, and Naval Aviator or a Chinese copy of a Russian plane with Chinese avionics, radar, and vastly inferior engine, with a Chinese pilot, I am pretty sure which one I am putting my money on in a fight…. how about you?

      • Lee wk

        The Chinese are not just copying. They are also improving on what was reverse engineered. To come out with a better product. What took the Americans decades to developed required less than half the time by the Chinese. You mentioned that they have no bases overseas. Why buy a parking lot when you don’t even have a driving licence yet. Foreign countries will offer you their port as refuelling and supply bases when the Chinese carriers come a calling. The host countries will be interested in the cash that the visiting sailors brings and protection afforded by being an ally to another superpower with its economic advantage. China has long been sailing the seven seas long before Christopher Columbus retrace the route taken by Admiral Zheng He in the 1400’s. So they are no novice in this game of influence peddling. The recent UK, Germany, Australia and South Korea, long time allies of the US,joining of the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank signifies the shifting of influence in a developing multipolar world and waning interest of mercantile nations in subscribing to an American political dominated ideology of .”us against the rest of world”

  • Secundius

    I wonder how many pilot’s it cost them, besides the two we actually know about?

  • richie rich


  • Secundius

    There talk about a Massive Steam Explosion, aboard their New Aircraft Carrier. Sounds like a possible Boiler Room Steam to Turbine Explosion. The ChiCom’s are calling it the “Oven Room” Incident…

  • RedStatePatriot

    The funny thing about China’s carrier and their plans to build more is that they have no ports outside of China… nada, none, zero. All they can do is harass their next door neighbors they can not project any power globally. Sending a carrier battle group to sea the way the US does is not a short putt. It takes dozens of supply ships sailing from ports all over the World linking up with the carrier at sea to do it properly.

    China is trying hard, but don’t be fooled they are Very Many years from any real carrier operations that the US should worry over. And since in about 20 years they will be facing a real crisis at home with a population that is 80% retired with about 20% working age to support it all, I think they will not be on the rapid rise they seem to be now.

    • Jiesheng Li

      They may have no bases but will form allies just as the Russians have with Syria.