China’s Carrier Fighter Fleet

Let’s start this Tuesday off with some photos of China’s entire carrier-based fighter fleet. Yes, this tiny fleet of perhaps four jets are the prototypes for the J-15 fighters that will soon be roaring off the deck of China’s first aircraft carrier, the ex-Soviet Varyag. Keep in mind that the J-15 is basically an updated (improved avionics, sensors and weapons) copy of the late 1980s-vintage Sukhoi Su-33 fighters that fly off the Varyag’s sister ship, the Russian navy’s Admiral Kuznetzov. The Su-33 airframe was specifically developed to fly off the ┬áKuznetsov and Varyag using the ships’s ski-jump bow ramps to get aloft rather than the steam-driven catapults used on American carriers. Keep in mind that steam catapults allow much heavier but less powerful aircraft (like an E-2 Hawkeye) to take off from carriers than ramps do. Still, given the fact that China’ new carrier fighter is based on a large Russian-long range fighter, the J-15 will likely have a combat radius of around 430 miles.

It’s been reported that Chinese J-15 test pilots have been making take-offs and landings from land-locked mock ups of the Varyag’s flight deck for several years, learning the tricky art of carrier operations long before they put to sea. These pilots will serve as an initial cadre to teach other chinese naval aviators who will further flesh out the intricacies of carrier flight operations when the Varyag starts operating with jets at sea. This will be a fairly tough job since there aren’t many navies in the world who are currently willing to teach the PLAN how to fly off carriers, they’re going to have to learn it solo.

Anyway, back to the pictures, as China Defense Blog points out, when mom’s away, the kids will play.

Click through the jump to see more.


  • DGR

    Learning carrier ops from scratch….. The accident/death rate is going to be large. Even if they have practiced for years on land, nothing is going to prep the pilots for landing at sea. I kinda feel sorry for the deck hands who will have to man the decks during these initial training years. I might hate China, but I wouldnt wish learning flight ops at sea on my worst enemy……..

  • Pat

    They will never master/establish carrier flight ops like the USN and our pilots with our planes with our carriers with our flight deck crew… never!

  • EJ257

    Can’t wait until they start doing flight ops off the ship. Hope we get video as well as photos.

    • passingby

      2013 perhaps.

  • TMB

    Does the new carrier have its own name? All I ever hear it called on here is “the ex-Soviet Varyag.”

    • FormerDirtDart

      It was reported, just about a year ago, to be renamed “Shi Lang.” Shi Lang was a Ming admiral who helped the Qing conquer the Kingdom of Tungning in 1681. The Kingdom of Tungning ruled a little island off China’s coast, today called Taiwan.

      • DGR

        Interesting, so they name their first carrier after the guy who helped conquer Taiwan? Nope, I dont think they publically stated there intentions or anything……

      • passingby

        it was rumored (on Chinese internet sites), then falsely reported on US and western internet sites)

      • cozine

        The ship won’t be named until she is commissioned – so call it “BigMommy” if you like.

        But all the speculation about the intend behind the name? Come on, will France call their next CV “William the Conqueror”?

    • Hale

      So far, at least from all the Chinese sites that I’ve read. It’s still simply called the Varyag. I think a lot of netizens want it to be named the ‘Shi Lang’ but I’ve yet to see anything official about it.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      The Carrier Formerly Known As Varyag? Translated into Chinese, of course….

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

      • cozine

        Simply, “Mom Var”.

  • JackBlack

    Vintage 80s your arse Sir:
    First flight: 17 August 1987
    Introduction: 31 August 1998 (official)

    Article is written like the cold war is still on, those pesky Ruskies inventing the aircraft carrier, they are doomed, they know nothing our Kung Fu is betar.
    Can you see yourself in the mirror from all the bs.

    If china has anything in abundance, it has a population, so out of the vast population trained pilots can be made in vast numbers, planes alike.
    So since there is industry, and there is funding, old, ex and current Russian instructors will gladly accept the call to teach for whatever amount of money offered, which China would gladly pay, and during the process educate instructors of their own.
    Is it going to take a few years maybe, is it going to work yes most probably.
    So rest assured the world will tremble as it trembles now as to what they sold to North Korea, even if it was just a blue print of a truck sent via e-mail, as that much it takes if you are determined.
    Do not forget to whom is the entire US in debt at this and in future years to come, and who controls that debt – China.

    • FormerDirtDart

      China controls barely a tenth of US debt.

    • Tad

      This is no doubt the trend as it looks right now. What happens when a big economic crash hits China? It is coming. Will there then be an abandoned aircraft carrier and out-of-work naval pilots? Or will a big crash merely strengthen the resolve of the Chinese gov’t to increase their ability to project power?

      • Jonny

        Look at North Korea, after 1700H there is no light on the streets.
        Just imagine 1.6 bln people focusing their mind on the destruction of the all wrongs coming from the West. You’ll get the idea, and then the party comes in and says it is their wrongdoing join us in the fight against them.
        1 WW, 2nd WW, remember…that is pretty much the same context on how they started.

      • Hale

        Well, China’s got three carriers right now. One iss a hotel and the other is the centerpiece of a military amusement park. So I could totally see it becoming a casino or something similar if they decided to get scrap it.

        Seriously though, if China’s economy crashes, then the world’s economy goes along with it. China is some of the biggest buyers of US-made passenger aircraft, agricultural products and much much more.

  • STemplar

    Preach to them, they’re the ones trying to bully everyone in the region into accepting their dominance of local sea lanes and resources. Turning their backs on international conventions and forums and wanting to brow beat individual nations into submission. I don’t completely buy into the boogeyman Chinese propaganda but neither do I think they are acting in a friendly responsible manner on the international stage.

    • passingby

      LOL. what a brainwashed fool and propaganda junkie.

    • Your hostility toward China is not justified. China strengthens peacefully.

  • Lance

    Strange the Chinese went with the Fighter only version of the SU-33. The Russian have dropped all but a handful of SU-33 for newer MiG-29Ks that are multirole fighters. While China could send fighter sweeps from its carrier it lacks strike aircraft. will China buy MiG-29Ks in time who knows. I do like there paint scheme on the painted plane in two of the 5 pics.

    More missile fotter for our Eagles, Raptors, and Hornets I say.

    • V.A.

      Back in the ’90s, they found that the Flanker platform offered superior carrier performance to the Fulcrum. But modernising the fleet was deemed impractical, so they took the easier route and went with Fulcrums. Development for MiG-29K had already been paid for by India. In the future, the Russians will likely use a navalized PAK FA, a T-50K if you will.

      Its unlikely the Chinese will buy MiG-29Ks, seeing as they’re developing these Su-33 copies to be fully multirole, like the J-11Bs the PLAAF flies.

    • V.A.

      The T-50 is no larger than the Flanker: with modifications incorporating folding wings, it would be perfectly viable as a Carrier-launched aircraft. Considering that Russia only intends to start building new aircraft carriers around 2020, they’ve got plenty of time to work on said modification.

      Yes, the Russian Navy will stick with the MiG-29Ks, but that’s for the duration of the Admiral Kuznetsov’s life. They aren’t about to buy any more than necessary. Meanwhile, the Indian Navy ordered MiG-29Ks because it is the only aircraft small enough to operate from a re-engineered Admiral Gorshkov (now the INS Vikramaditya) and their indigenous aircraft carrier, IAC1. For IAC2, India has submitted RFIs to Boeing and Dassault (Rhino and Flanker, respectively), while EF and Saab have asked to be allowed to participate in what is a budding N-MRCA. India had also sent RFIs to Russia for the Su-33, but Sukhoi opted out of the race because of plans to shut down the Su-33 product line entirely.

      So, again, MiG-29Ks are a buy of convenience for Russia, a buy of technical necessity for India (who are also recipients of royalties everytime a MiG-29K sale is made), and a non-option for China, with their new Flanker copies.

    • chris

      You don’t really believe the Raptor will ever see combat do you??

  • C87

    I draw a lot of similarities between modern day China and an early to mid 1930’s Germany. It’s economy is growing, their rapid re-armament of their armed forces is “peaceful” and “their right as a sovereign nation”, and the world is getting weary of their secrecy and disregard for international law (although the US is nowhere near perfect in sense).
    I’d bet that in 10-15 years a two pronged assault will be taken, with Chinese forces attempting to seize Taiwan and NK forces invading the south.
    Just don’t trust them.

    • mitko

      It’s not 1930s Germany, but 1900s Germany or Teddy Roosevelt’s USA – rising economic powerhouses flexing their muscles and seeking their new place in the world.

    • Scott Lawrence

      I think you are being generous in your time line. If Obama is still in office next year I see China and NK making their move in 4 to 5 years. Tiawan, Vietnam, Phillipines , and Thialnad are next.

    • marrs101

      In 10-15 years China will struggle with possibly turbulent political changes. I don’t think the current system will last for lot more than a decade. It has signs already… And democracy is something You learn very slowly, with lots of bad economical decisions. Remember the USSR. The West was the most surprised. And where are the ex-eastern block countries now? I’m Hungarian, so I see the painfully slow and difficult process of change.

    • FtD

      not at all… Germany in 30s was near broke, umemployment rate sky high, couldn’t arm themselves from Treaty of Versailles. China has none of those above and it is now one of richest non oil producing countries in the world… one of perm members of UN security council so how is it similar to Germany?
      Taiwan will lean away from US support as majority of their businesses will be dealing with China and by controlling their economic fortune, China can set the tone of how they want Taiwan to deal with US so anything short of invasion and Taiwan must comply with the threat of turning off the money tap. So China doesn’t need to fire a single bullet to literally retake Taiwan….

  • Kski

    Yummy targets for our pilots!

    • LWP

      You talk like though things in this world never change. USA is always dominance, for how long ? The Roman Empire is gone. The Ottoman is gone and so is the British Empire. The US can hang around for a little while longer.
      There are 1.3B chinaman around, 15% of them middle class is good enough to overtake the US.

  • tee

    It does have a familiar historical ring to it.

  • Pat

    I thought this was Defense Tech… Not a racist blog..

  • Benjamin

    It will take them at least 20 years to become proficient at operating carriers. The size of the population will not make a difference in how long it takes to master operating carriers because of all the factors it takes to train senior enlisted and senior officers. You can’t just train someone to land on a ship and expect the entire ship’s crew to be even halfway proficient at operating a carrier

  • oli

    First with a large population comes greater responsibility a country lime China has difficulty feeding its population now it has to maintain a fleet of aircrafts. Just like GM capitulated. Secondly there’s a mc Donald’s Kentucky fried chicken dominoes etc all over the world not to mention gm China gm Russia Ipads IBM we supply practically the whole world with arms china has nothing on the US that’s to name a few.

  • core

    Looks like a SU-27 with a new paint job…

  • David R Ball

    And why would have to learn anything when the British have new software that allows the aircraft to land on it’s own…And BTW anything the British have the Chinese own… Approach for more info….Or Janes….

  • Rohan

    Looks like Sukhoi’s planes with new type of paint jobs…Yaikesssss….

  • Dumb Grunt

    That is exactly what they want you to believe. The Chinese are not slope heads and they are not stupid. On the surface, they will appear to be our friends and to cooperate, but that is just a public image for the international community to see. In truth, they are going to do what, when, and how they want. They do not care about any one unless they are useful to them, for as long as they are useful. The Chinese actually see the U.S. as an adversary not an ally. The main reasons to trade with us is purely about money and technology. Their strategy is a Go strategy not a Chess strategy and time is of no consequence, only the goals are important.

    • cozine

      Uh, that goes for any country who has their own interest to defend, dude.

  • Belesari

    Ok to avoid the idiot fools who posted above and save myself from the mind rays of the CIA from their martain bases i wont comment upon China’s relationship with its people and……erm minorities.

    One thing for those here who dont know this. China doesnt really worry about keeping populations. You see it has a habbit of conquering a area then shipping Han chinese to the area. Hense the area becomes Chinese through lets face it breeding of the populace. Remember Democracy is a tool it has been used by dictators and conquerors to do pretty terrible things.

    Que George Bush comment…..

    Anyways I think they may be effective at Air-Air roles basicly providing Cap coverage. But because of the limitations of using such a small carrier and and Jump decks they wont be able to carry the strike loads of a US carrier aircraft.

    So. What they are in reguards to Chinese vs American Navy senario is a anti access weapon. In the Blue sea…no theses would endure constant attacks from american carrier groups which will be able to send up more aircraft than the Chinese carrier per hr.