Warplanes: Another Reason Why China Dislikes South Korea

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May 10, 2017: The Chinese L-15 (or JL-15) jet trainer never achieved much popularity (sales) as a trainer so the manufacturer has introduced an upgraded L-15B version that is more capable as a combat aircraft, especially for ground attack and reconnaissance while also being more useful as for training pilots. The two-seat 9.5 ton, twin engine L-15 can achieve supersonic speeds and has the kind of high-tech cockpit found in modern fighters. The L-15 was designed to be produced in several versions, all of them two seat aircraft. The different versions are modified slightly to equip the aircraft for various types of pilot training (advanced trainer or initial fighter trainer) as well as combat tasks.

The L-15A is equipped with AI-222 jet engines made by the Ukrainian firm Motor Sich which also supplies AI-25 engines for the older 4.3 ton L-8 trainer that entered service in 1994 and has sold quite well.

The L-15B uses a more powerful version of the AI-222 as well as improved electronics. L-15B has nine hard points for carrying up to 3.5 tons of bombs and missiles. The L-15A sells for about $15 million each and the L-15B is expected to sell for nearly $20 million depending on accessories.

The L-15B appears to be influenced by the success of the T-50. The FA-50 is the combat version of the South Korean designed and manufactured T-50 jet trainer. China appears embarrassed by their smaller neighbor surpassing them with several new weapons systems and the T-50 has been a popular export item. South Korea began working on the T-50 after 2000 and spent over two billion dollars on the effort. The first test flight took place in 2002. The 13 ton aircraft is actually a light fighter and can fly at supersonic speeds. With some added equipment (radars and fire control) the T-50 becomes the FA-50, a combat aircraft. This version carries a 20mm auto-cannon and up to 4.5 tons of smart bombs and missiles. The T-50 can stay in the air about four hours per sortie and has a service life of 8,000 hours in the air.

The main use of both the T-50 and L-15 is preparing new pilots for high end aircraft. But the L-15 proved too expensive (compared to existing jet trainers). The L-15 first flew in 2006 and the L-15A was available by 2008. The Chinese Air Force only bought about a dozen L-15As for evaluation and decided that it was cheaper and easier to stick with the older L-8 as well as the similar L-9. The L-9 is less expensive because it is based on the MiG-21 fighter design or, rather, the Chinese clone the J-7.

For the L-15 Export sales have been hard to come by, with only about 24 such sales confirmed. Ukraine, which supplies the engines, was expected to be a customer but because of the Russian invasion that is not a priority. Actually Ukraine is more interested in building the L-15 under license. Pakistan, another potential export customer, is also attracted to the local construction option.

The Chinese can take comfort in the fact that its booming economy produces so many new (and financially successful) engineering and aeronautical firms that these private companies can afford to develop new designs and the Chinese military, and potential export customers, can select the ones they prefer.

 


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