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The new variant of the Shenyang J-15 “Flying Shark”, the PLA Navy’s only ship-borne fighter jet in service so far. Photo: Weixin

New Chinese J-15 fighter jet looks ready for faster catapult take-off

  • Major changes seen in ‘Flying Shark’ photo suggest capacity for greater acceleration, possibly catapult take-off, and a more advanced radar system
  • This also means the PLA Navy’s third aircraft carrier is likely to have catapult decks

China has updated its carrier-based J-15 fighters for catapult take-off, suggesting China’s third aircraft carrier is likely to be equipped with the device.

The new variant of the Shenyang J-15 “Flying Shark”, the People’s Liberation Army’s only ship-borne fighter jet in service so far, was revealed to have major modifications in a photo revealed by manufacturers Shenyang Aircraft Co (SAC) on their social media account.

The photo shows a J-15 fighter jet taxiing on a runway next to a tug truck. The SAC did not indicate the date or location of the picture, which was released on Tuesday. But the formal grey livery of the plane suggested it was close to delivery, no longer a test model that is normally painted yellow.

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Among the most noticeable changes in the new J-15, as seen in the photo, were cockpit doors on either side, compared to the previous model which just had one door on the starboard, or right-hand, side.

This was most likely in order to accommodate enhanced landing gears, suggesting this aircraft is designed to endure greater acceleration – possibly take-off by catapult.

However, since the tug truck blocks part of the view in the photo, not enough of the nose landing gear was visible to confirm the enhancement.

Another major change was that the new J-15 uses the same wingtip pylon as the PLA Air Force’s J-16 fighter. This means the new aircraft could also carry China’s most advanced short-range air-to-air combat missile, the PL-10, which has a fast response speed, and advanced guidance and manoeuvrability.

The radar on the plane also appeared to be different from the previous J-15, with lightning diverter stripes on the new radome, or protective dome for the radar antenna. This suggests the upgraded version may have switched to an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system.

There were also minor changes, such as improved infrared search and track systems in front of the cockpit and the front of the wings.


China ramps up training of carrier fighter jet pilots to bolster PLA navy

China ramps up training of carrier fighter jet pilots to bolster PLA navy

The J-15 is China’s domestically developed carrier-borne fighter jet, based on a prototype of the Su-33. Since its introduction in 2013, the J-15 has been used on both the PLA Navy’s active aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong.

The PLAN is also building a third carrier. Commercial satellite images earlier this year showed considerable progress in the construction of the vessel at a Shanghai shipyard, indicating that it could be launched within months.

US think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies believes the vessel would still be conventionally powered, but feature three catapult-assisted launch channels on its flight deck, which could improve the planes’ payload capacity and ship’s operation efficiency.

The development of new carrier-borne fighters is also under way. At the Zhuhai Air Show in October, the SAC also revealed test flight photos of the FC-31 – a stealth fighter under development – featuring a catapult launch bar on its nose landing gear, and foldable wings.