Last month, Chinese state-owned newspaper The Global Times reported that a naval version of the JL-9 Mountain Eagle trainer jet had been delivered to the PLAN and was being used for “training aircraft carrier jet pilots on land-based airfields.”
However, Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie recently told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the aircraft in question, which was produced by the Guizhou Aircraft Industry Corporation (GAIC), was developed specifically to teach pilots that will belong to China’s Type 002 aircraft carrier - the country’s second domestically-built carrier.
The Type 002 is currently slated for completion as early as next year and sets itself apart from the PLAN’s Liaoning and Shandong carriers, as it will have an electromagnetic catapult system that has been compared to that of the American USS Gerald R. Ford-type carriers.
Prior to this aircraft’s development, the PLAN’s carrier pilots had to rely on simulators to learn how to take off and land on a flight deck less than 300 meters long. In addition to the new craft providing on-site training, the PLAN will be able to cut costs, as the JL-9 trainer is significantly cheaper than the Shenyang J-15 it is modeled after.
“The delivery of the naval version JL-9 trainer will save the navy a lot of money,” Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chenming told the SCMP. He explained that rather than spending $61 million on a twin-engine J-15, the trainer would only run the PLAN some $9 million to produce.
“The J-15 is expensive because it is an attack fighter jet and needs to be fitted with sophisticated devices and weapons, but a trainer doesn’t need to carry so many items.”
Zhou further noted the GAIC had also completed a version of the JL-9 trainer that could be operated by other countries as a light strike fighter.
China aims to have at least four air aircraft carrier strike groups by 2030, which the SCMP details will require at least 200 various aircraft, such as helicopters and fighter jets, and about 500 pilots.
In December, it was reported that the Shandong’s aircraft fleet may not be able to reach full capacity due to a lack of PLAN fighter pilots. With this new carrier-based training jet available for the Navy, it’s expected that the service can now be more efficient and practical in training its pilots.