The nation of China is utilizing whatever means necessary to become a recognized world power - both economically and militarily- even to the point of data theft and unauthorized reverse engineering of captured or purchased technology. Once a long-time customer of the former Soviet Union (and thusly gaining access to all sorts of Soviet technology of the time), the Chinese communist regime broke away from their overseers in the 1960s to begin development of indigenous technologies, an effort bent on forging a localized military industry which has steadily grown in reputation. The Shenyang "J-15" is one such project of note, currently undergoing testing as of this writing (2012), to provide the burgeoning People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) an indigenous multi-role carrier-based fighter solution to coincide with the acquisition, commissioning and upcoming development of several indigenous Chinese Navy aircraft carriers (the ex-Soviet carrier "Varyag", acquired privately through Ukraine, was recently commissioned on September 25th, 2012 as the "Liaoning", becoming China's first aircraft carrier). The J-15 is expected to be introduced into PLAN service sometime in 2016 depending on the outcome of flight testing and the requisite systems trials.
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.
The acquired Su-33 prototype was naturally dissected by Chinese engineers to garner as much technology from the vehicle as possible. This ultimately set the basic groundwork for the indigenous J-15 program headed by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. Key to the J-15's existence is the replacement of Soviet/Russian technologies with Chinese-designed and produced derivatives. This includes the avionics suite and engines (the Shenyang Liming FWS-10H, same fit as on the unauthorized Chengdu J-10 fighter). With the airframe resolved (suitably modified for the rigors of carrier operations) and powerplant selected, the J-15 prototype first took to the skies on August 31st, 2009. On May 6th, 2010, the J-15 was formally launched utilizing a "ski-jump" take off (the ski jump ramp is a common design feature of the smaller Soviet/Russian/European conventionally-powered aircraft carriers, dimensionally smaller than their much larger American nuclear-powered brethren).
This Chinese Su-33 derivative showcases several key ingredients which match or surpass the original Russian design. The surfaces of the aircraft are said to be coated in specially-formulated radar-absorbing material which, though not directly making the J-15 a dedicated "stealth aircraft" - provides some base defense against "tracking eyes" on the ground. The nose cone is also home to a locally devised AESA (Active Electronically-Scanned Array) radar system which is coupled to a modern weapons suite made up of guided and precision munitions as well as conventional drop bombs (observed wingtip rail launchers will undoubtedly support air-to-air missiles). As a multi-role fighter, the J-15 is expected to support all manner of sorties including air defense, ground strike, anti-ship and reconnaissance though much of her early operation will most likely revolve around air defense. Her construction is of composites which decrease overall weight while retaining the needed strength for agile maneuvers while the cockpit is fully-digital and home to a single operator complete with ejection seat. As with other navalized fighter mounts, the J-15 should feature folding wings, an arrestor cable tail hook and reinforced undercarriage.
Of course Chinese officials are high on their early assessment of the J-15, comparing its capabilities with that of all modern fighter aircraft types. Such claims, however, remain to be proven as the J-15 is still undergoing flight testing and has yet to enter service. Comparatively, the competing Boeing F/A-18 series was introduced in 1983 (with the Super Hornet in 1999) and has already seen its fair share of combat since, progressively being updated to suit the evolving battlefield. The Russians are carefully watching J-15 development to see its potential - though outwardly, officials have expressed skepticism and largely dismissed the Chinese venture as an Su-33 "clone".
All told, the J-15 appears to be a notable upgrade to the previous line of Soviet-era fighters once in service with the PLAAF (People's Liberation Army Air Force). The J-15, however, will serve directly with the PLAN (Chinese Navy) and provide a potent "reach" to its growing aircraft carrier group aspirations. With tensions already mounting in the Asian-Pacific Theater, the arrival of the Su-33-inspired J-15 will only serve to drive the ongoing arms race in the region ever further.
November 2012 - It was announced that the J-15 had completed successful carrier-based landings marking a project milestone. Full serial production of the series was then announced during December of 2013.
November 2018 - With supposed issues with flight control and general handling, the PLAN is looking to the promising, in-development J-31 as a successor.
December 2018 - China has been actively operating J-15 fighters from the deck of its Liaoning aircraft carrier. A second carrier is thought to soon join this unit.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
Equipped to search, track, and engage enemy surface elements through visual acquisition, radar support, and onboard weaponry.
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
71.9 ft (21.90 m)
48.2 ft (14.70 m)
19.4 ft (5.90 m)
39,022 lb (17,700 kg)
62,832 lb (28,500 kg)
+23,810 lb (+10,800 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Shenyang J-15 (Flying Shark) production variant)
2 x WS-10A Taihang afterburning turbofan engines developing 30,000 lb of thrust.
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