A new version of the Chinese heavy embarked fighter J-15 soon in service?

As with the J-11 air superiority fighter which was derived from the Su-27, or the J-16 fighter bomber derived from the Su-30, the standard carrier fighter of the Chinese naval air force, the J-15, is the result of reverse engineering of a Russian fighter from the Flanker family, in this case a Su-33 acquired from Ukraine when Beijing acquired the hull of the aircraft carrier Varyag, left in wasteland in Ukrainian shipyards after the implosion of the Soviet Union. But unlike the J-11B, and especially the J-16, the J-15 had undergone little modernization in the conversion process, and suffered from several shortcomings that already struck its Soviet big brother, in particular a lack of reliability which has led to numerous accidents. However, and despite the imminent arrival of the new generation on-board stealth fighter designated for the time being under the term J-35, the Chinese Navy continues to trust its heavy fighter bomber to equip its aircraft carriers, whether they are the two ships equipped with springboards already in service, or the future aircraft carriers equipped with Type 003 catapults, whose first unit is expected to be launched in the coming weeks.

For this, the Chinese Navy has undertaken to design a new version of his device, designated to date under the unofficial code of J-15T, a more modern aircraft and above all capable of using the powerful catapults of the future Chinese aircraft carrier to take off from the flight deck at full load. However, very little was known about this new device so far, but a photo recently published on Chinese social networks showing the hunter towed on a taxiway, allows us to observe several important changes. Given the angle of the photo, and the presence of a tractor in front of the plane, only a few elements are visible, such as new pylons at the end of the wing identical to those of the J-16 and allowing de facto d '' take on board the new short-range air-to-air missile PL-10 much more efficient than its ancestor the PL-8, a new IRST front infrared sensor, as well as a transformed radar cone, suggesting the presence of a new radar, most likely equipped with an AESA antenna, like all other modern Chinese planes from the J-10 to the J-20.

The photo of the J-15T on the taxiway published on the Chinese RS

It is interesting to note that the Chinese Navy has chosen a fleet made up of two models of combat aircraft for its heavy aircraft carriers, the stealth J-35 on one side, and the J-15T of the other. The latter being heavier, it will have a priori a higher carrying capacity and an extended length compared to the J-35, and will probably play the role of "ammunition truck" for the benefit of stealth devices, while staying at a safe distance since the J-15 is neither stealthy, nor even discreet. In addition, an electronic warfare version, comparable to the Chinese Air Force J-16D, and for the time being called J-15D, is also being tested, in order to give the airborne group performance comparable to that of the American GAE on board Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. Finally, there are many indications that Chinese aircraft carriers will also implement GJ-11 family stealth combat drones, to complete the offensive panoply of the ship.

On paper, therefore, and by the entry into service by 2024 of the first aircraft carrier Type 003 and its new combat aircraft J-35, J-15T / D, GJ-11 and Air Watch KJ-600, this one will have an operational air force potential having nothing to envy that of the American aircraft carriers. It remains to be determined how long it will take for Chinese sailors to learn how to effectively implement such a tool, of extraordinary complexity, moreover in a context of growing competition with the most experienced of the naval forces of the moment, the US Navy. Two schools clash on this question, between those who estimate that it will be necessary of several years, even a decade for the Chinese Navy to manage to use this tool effectively, and those who estimate that this delay could be much longer. short, based on the rise in power which seems perfectly under control of the Chinese Navy in other areas, such as submarines and surface combatants. One thing is certain, the day when the Naval Forces of the People's Liberation Army consider themselves perfectly ready to challenge the US Navy, it is more than likely that they will make it clear ...

The J-35 will be the centerpiece of the air group on board the Chinese Navy's Type 003 and later aircraft carriers

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