‘Super Flanker’ on an Aircraft Carrier: First Look at China’s Newest Fighter the J-15B

The first images of China’s latest class of fighter jet, and the first new carrier based fighter to be unveiled worldwide for several years, have emerged showing the long awaited J-15B Flying Shark. The fighter represents the most advanced pre-fifth generation fighter China has yet to develop, and integrates a wide range of next generation technologies resulting in its designation as a ‘4++ generation’ aircraft. While the original J-15 fighter which currently serves in China’s People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy entered service from 2012, and was based on the ground based J-11B fighter, the new variant is thought to have benefited extensively from the development of the superior J-11D. The J-11D was based on the same Su-27 Flanker airframe and fulfilled a similar role to the Russian Su-35, but had a number of performance advantages reflecting Chinese technological strengths in multiple fields including composite materials and sensors. The J-11D reached advanced prototype stages but was either delayed or cancelled for production possibly due to the need to focus on the J-20 and J-16 programs and on upgrades to the existing J-11B fleet. As such, a carrier based derivative of the design is expected to enter service before the land based fighter itself. 

Unlike the original J-15 designed to operate from ski jump carriers without catapult launch systems, the J-15B was built to use the electromagnetic catapult launch systems on the country’s new supercarriers currently under construction. These will allow it to deploy with much larger weapons and fuel loads, just as fighters from the U.S. Navy’s upcoming Gerald Ford Class supercarriers will once these become operational. Among the fighter’s expected features are a radar cross section reducing airframe, stealth coatings, fifth generation level avionics, and a new range of compatible munitions including the PL-15 and PL-10 air to air missiles. The J-15B is expected to have a higher endurance, speed, acceleration and altitude ceiling than any other carrier based fighter, and is speculated to use thrust vectoring engines much like the J-11D. Such engines provide significant manoeuvrability advantages particularly at short ranges, and have already been integrated onto the PLA Air Force’s J-10C fighters. Production of the new aircraft is expected to be done on a much larger scale than that of the original J-15 as the rate of carrier fleet expansion grows and as newer carriers can accommodate more aircraft. While orders for the J-15B are considered secure, as are electronic attack derivatives designated J-15D, the future of the fighter’s land based counterpart the J-11D remains uncertain. 

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