Staff Writer (Updated: 5/20/2015):
At its core, the J-15 is a wholly-conventional fighter design based highly on the Soviet-era Sukhoi Su-33 "Flanker-D" - a carrier-based variant of the successful Su-27 "Flanker" air defense fighter and multi-role platform. The Chinese version is conventionally powered though outfitted as such to deserve the "4.5th Generation Fighter" mark - reportedly placing its capabilities on par with the American Boeing F/A-18 "Super Hornet" and the French Dassault Rafale (though falling short of the 5th Generation Lockheed F-22 "Raptor"). Due to its origins in the Su-33, the J-15 follows the same refined lines of its Soviet/Russian counterpart complete with twin vertical tail fins, swept wing angles and forward canards. The dual engine configuration is aspirated by large rectangular air intakes under the fuselage as in the Flanker series. The cockpit is set well-forward in the design, offering excellent vision out of the cockpit, while an advanced tracking and engagement radar is housed within the elongated nose cone. The undercarriage remains a traditional tricycle design with two main legs and a double-tired nose leg - all wholly retractable.
The J-15 came to be by way of a Chinese purchase in 2001 of a Soviet Su-33 prototype (known as the "T-10K-3") through the Ukraine. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991, the Russian grip on Ukrainian affairs eroded, providing much flexibility and autonomy for the Ukrainian nation with many existing military products passing to local ownership. The Chinese could now, therefore, bypass much of the bureaucracy guarding traditionally secret Soviet technology that was kept largely out of the hands of non-aligned nations. It is worth noting that, during the Cold War, Ukraine represent a major industrial center in Europe and Asia, an industry largely involved in the design, development and production of Soviet military hardware. With the Chinese-Russian relationship showing improvement in the 1990s, an agreement between the two nations was ironed out in 1995 to locally-produce the Su-27SK Flanker as the Shenyang "J-11". This provided excellent manufacture experience and performance data on a modernized Su-27 mount. The J-11 began production in 1998, being introduced for service the same year with 164 built to date (2012). However, the Chinese went on to develop an unlicensed version of the J-11 as the "J-11B", this without the express approval of Sukhoi and the Russians - naturally souring relationships once more. This also closed the door on direct Chinese procurement of the Su-33 for the interim.