China is developing a new carrier-borne fighter jet to replace its workhorse J-15 aircraft, the Hong-Kong-based South China Morning Post reported, citing China’s Deputy Air Force Commander, Lt.-Gen. Zhang Hongthe.
According to the newspaper, this task has become more pressing following a series of mechanical failures and crashes allegedly dogging the J-15s.
When asked by Sputnik to comment on the conclusions made in the newspaper report, Russian military expert Vasily Kashin described them as premature, adding that with regular upgrades, the J-15 will continue to form the backbone of China’s carrier-based aircraft in the coming years and even decades.
For example, China was developing a sixth-generation fighter plane even before it launched mass-production of its fifth-generation J-20 fighter.
The FC-31 stealth fighter could be used as a model to replace the J-15, but the problem is that the plane is still undergoing tests. Flight tests of another prototype began only in late 2016 and it looks like several more prototypes will be tested.
Vasily Kashin believes that it may take years before the land-based version of the FC-31 has been properly tested and production begins. Only then will they start adapting the plane for use on aircraft carriers.
“I don’t expect the first carrier-based J-31s to reach an initial stage of combat readiness before the mid-2020s. Until then, they will have to make do with the J-15,” the expert noted.
He added that the string of minor malfunctions that led to the crashes mentioned in the South China Morning Post’s story, which reportedly killed one PLA pilot and injured another, were not surprising at all.
“Years ago the Chinese decided to save some money and, instead of buying several Su-33s from Russia for their subsequent license production in China, they opted for a Su-33 prototype in Ukraine. Acquiring the plane which was not longer fit to fly, they started developing an improved copy,” Kashin said.
“As a result, the development of the J-15 took more time and more money than expected and the first planes proved less than reliable.”
Vasily Kashin still believes that the basic construction of the J-15 suits the needs of a heavy carrier-based fighter as it is technologically similar to the J-11B/BS, J-16 and Su-30 currently in service with the Chinese Navy and Air Force.
“By spending some more time and money, the Chinese will apparently solve the problems they now have and will get a fairly reliable and powerful carrier-based fighter,” Vasily Kashin concluded.