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 Kuznetsov 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.
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