China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will be able to cut costs in training its next generation of carrier pilots with the recent development of a new training aircraft derived from an older fighter jet.
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.
Unlike China’s two active aircraft carriers – the Liaoning and the Shandong – which use a ski-jump launch system for the J-15 jets they carry, the Type 002 will be fitted with an electromagnetic catapult similar to that used on the USS Gerald Ford.
While the construction of Type 002 began in 2018 and is expected to be completed next year, it is not yet known when it will be ready to put to sea.
China said earlier it planned to have at least four aircraft carrier strike groups by 2030, which would require 200 aircraft – including fighter jets, helicopters and assorted surveillance planes – and about 500 pilots.
Learning how to take-off and land on a flight deck less than 300 metres (980 feet) long takes time, and although the PLA Navy has been teaching its own pilots – rather than recruiting them from the air force – since 2017, the lack of a suitable training aircraft has meant it has had to rely on simulators.
The modified JL-9 is also much cheaper than the J-15, according to Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chenming.
“The delivery of the naval version JL-9 trainer will save the navy a lot of money,” he said, adding that a twin-engined J-15 cost at least US$61 million, while a single-engine JL-9 cost only about US$10 million.
“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.”
GAIC had also developed an export version of the JL-9 trainer, which could be used as a light strike fighter, which might find a market in developing nations, Zhou said.
Meanwhile, Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said that another carrier training plane – based on the JL-10 already in service with the PLA Air Force – was also being developed by Hongdu Aircraft Industry Group, another subsidiary of AVIC.
“The air force version of the JL-10 is based on the Russian Yakovlev Yak-130,” he said.
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.