Fatal crash of Chinese J-15 carrier jet puts question mark over troubled programme
Mainland report confirms fighter pilot died after failure during test run of aircraft
Mainland state media confirmed for the first time yesterday that a home-grown, carrier-based J-15 jet fighter crashed during training in April.
The crash could deal a blow to the development of the fighter jet and cast a shadow over the PLA Navy’s blue sea strategy and aircraft carrier programme.
J-15s are the core jet fighters for the mainland’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and other more advanced domestic carriers reportedly under construction.
China National Radio reported yesterday that a top-class PLA J-15 pilot died after he lost control of his plane during a simulated deck landing exercise at a unspecified inland base.
“When Zhang Chao was flying a carrier-based jet fighter in a mock landing on an aircraft carrier on April 27, he encountered a breakdown with the fly-by-wire flight control system,” the report said.
“At the critical moment, Zhang tried his best to save the aircraft. When the pushrods failed, he ejected and died as a result of an injury on landing.”
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong warned that the fatal accident might indicate that the J-15 was not of high enough standard for an aircraft carrier, which would be a major disappointment to the navy.
“As was with case with accidents during trial flights of the Su-27s in the 1980s, the reason behind the crash of the J-15 could either be a failure in the flight control system or a problem with production quality,” Wong said.
Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review reported in January that the programme for the development of the J-15 was well behind the demands of the navy, with the aircraft’s maker, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, managing to deliver no more than 10 of the planes between 2012 and 2015.
Some military observer suggested that the People’s Liberation Army might reconsider its commitment to the J-15, but Wong said he thought the reverse might be the case. “As there is no alternative in sight, I think the Chinese military will not abandon its plan but be forced to go on building J-15s,” Wong said.
The state radio report said Zhang, a 29-year-old Hunan native, had just been promoted as a full battalion ranking lieutenant commander this month.
The defence ministry said late last year that it was building its second aircraft carrier, the first to be made in China.It would adopt the same ski-jump take-off design that analysts said would suit J-15 jets. Analysts had expected the carrier to be ready for use by 2020.