Naval Air: Chinese Carrier Fighter Shows Its Colors

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April 28, 2011: New photos of the Chinese naval fighter, the navalized version of the J-11 (an illegal clone of the Russian Su-27), have appeared. This one is painted in Chinese Navy colors, and appears to be equipped with Chinese made electronics. This all grew out of China obtaining one of the Russian navalized Su-27s (the Su-33) from Ukraine, and taking tech (like the folding wings and beefed up landing gear) from it to navalize their 30 ton J-11 as the J-11BH (formerly the J-15).

The J-11BH probably will not be ready, at least in large numbers, to go to sea with Shi Lang later this year. While the J-11BH prototypes have been flying since 2009, it's taken a long time to integrate all the new components. Thus when Shi Lang does go to sea, it will apparently carry many navalized jet trainers (the 9.8 ton JL-9, and possibly the more recent 9.5 ton JL-15). The Shi Lang is expected to serve as a training carrier, to prepare naval aviators for service on the two new carriers under construction.

China already has naval helicopters for their carriers. These include the Russian Ka-28 (submarine search) and Ka-31 (radar early warning) and Mi-8 (transports). China is still having problems designing and building naval helicopters that can match or surpass Russian models. So Russian choppers will continue in service for at least another decade.

The Shi Lang has a maximum capacity of 50 jets and 18 helicopters, but it appears that China will not be using this many aircraft on their carriers initially. The Russians never maxed out the air wing on these ships either. Moreover, the most common use of Chinese carriers in the first few years will be training and, on occasion, "showing the flag" (visiting foreign ports to, well, show off.) Both training and show-off missions, will probably involve a carrier air wing of eight jets and 9-10 helicopters (six ASW/Anti-Submarine Warfare, three AEW/radar early warning and one SAR/search and rescue.) Once the J-11BH is ready, there will be several years of training pilots and carrier deck crews to handle this larger aircraft. So it won't be until the 2020s before China is ready to send a carrier to sea with a militarily significant air wing. This will include J-11BH fighters J-10AH light bombers, as well as AEW, ASW and SAR helicopters.

 


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