'Flying shark' jet ready for its next challenge
Beijing has again let military enthusiasts publicise new PLA hardware - this time revealing that its J-15 fighter jet, which will be based on the mainland's first aircraft carrier, has passed factory tests and entered technical flight testing.
The latest photos of the J-15 were first uploaded by internet users on mainland military forums on Sunday. They were picked up by the English-language version of Global Times - a newspaper under People's Daily - on Monday, and by its Chinese-language version yesterday.
Just two weeks ago, Xinhua posted 20 high-resolution pictures from unofficial military websites to confirm that the country's first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, a 67,500-tonne Admiral Kuznetsov-class carrier bought at auction in Ukraine in 1998, had almost been completed after more than a decade of renovations.
And in December, photographs and information posted by mainland military enthusiasts revealed the first flight test of the new generation J-20 stealth fighter jet.
The photos of the PLA Navy's 'flying shark' J-15 were taken outside the airfield of the No112 factory of Shenyang Aircraft Industry Corporation, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation of China.
Andrei Chang, chief editor of the Canadian-based Kanwa Asian Defence Monthly, who has monitored the mainland's aircraft carrier project for 20 years, said that the folding wings, shortened tail cone and bulked-up landing gear it needs to serve on an aircraft carrier were copied from the Russian Su-33.
'But this time, the fighter was seen with a standard naval paint scheme, which means it has passed all factory tests and is now bound for technical flight testing,' Chang said. 'Technical flight testing is one of the most difficult processes, with the Su-33 spending three years to overcome all problems.'
The first prototype J-15 is believed to have made its maiden flight on August 31, 2009. Video and smaller photos of J-15s have been circulating on the internet since June.
Chang said the pictures showed the J-15 was still equipped with a Russian engine but also was crammed with the best indigenous technologies, including an advanced anti-ship radar detector, self-guiding missiles and sophisticated electronics.
'Beijing's tactics in showing the latest development of J-15 are the same as when it revealed its J-20 and the Varyag - all aimed at playing down political impacts,' Chang said. 'That's because the J-15 and J-20 were copied from Russian fighter jets, which made Moscow very unhappy.'
Shanghai-based military expert Ni Lexiong said the latest J-15 pictures indicated that the jet would soon be on the carrier. 'The pictures tell us that development of the Varyag is going very smoothly,' he said. 'But in order to prevent our neighbours from being nervous, we had better use non-official sources to confirm our achievements.'
Research and development of the J-15 formally began in 2006, after Beijing revealed it was planning to develop an aircraft carrier battle group.
Earlier reports said Russia had planned to sell it up to 50 Su-33 Flanker-D fighters, but the deal collapsed due to China's request for two aircraft for a 'trial'. Beijing instead obtained an Su-33 prototype, the T-10K, from Ukraine for research.