By Bijan Razzaghi
China’s first Aircraft Carrier became operational in 2012 with the J-15 carrier based fighter becoming operational in 2013. The Chinese plan to build an additional 4 aircraft carriers based on the Liaoning. The Liaoning itself is based on the Admiral Kuznetsov Class Carrier.
The Liaoning is limited due to its lack of Nuclear power and no catapult. The J-15s must rely on the ships ramp for take offs. This significantly limits the J-15s payload to air to air configurations. The J-15 does have provisions for bombs likely the Kab-500 series, yet it is unlikely the J-15 can cary a significant amount or fly at long ranges in this configuration.
These factors limit the J-15 to air defense and air superiority where the aircraft is better suited. The J-15s performance is comparable to the Russian Su-33 which it is based on. The J-15 can pull 8 g maneuvers but its additional weight gives the aircraft a lower thrust to weight ratio of 0.8. The J-15 can engage air targets at ranges as far as 43 miles with the PL-12. This gives the J-15 the ability to fly ahead the carrier battle group and intercept aircraft.
Despite the emergence of Chinese Naval airpower China’s ship based anti aircraft and air to surface missiles remain more effective. Chinese ability to project power with carrier born aircraft is limited due to the J-15s lack of an effective air to ground capability and short range. Russia has had the same problem historically with its Naval aviation. The US Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and the US Marine Corps F-35B offer far better air to surface capabilities and will likely continue to operate in the Pacific region.