China allegedly copied Russian plane and made its most advanced fighter jet

The J-15 is China’s first locally made carrier-borne aircraft.
Ameya Paleja
A J15 fighter jet preparing to land on China's sole operational aircraft carrier
A J15 fighter jet preparing to land on China's sole operational aircraft carrier

AFP via Getty Images 

A newly aired documentary on China Central Television (CCTV) has shed light on the origins of the J-15 fighter aircraft. According to the documentary, China's most advanced fighter jet largely descends from a Soviet design, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

The J-15 is China's first locally made carrier-borne aircraft. Manufactured by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the J-15 is nicknamed the "Flying Shark." The fighter jet first entered service in 2014, and per the latest reports, there are about 50 units currently in operation, Business Insider stated.

Last year, the aircraft received a series of upgrades including those to the wings, radar and search and track system. These upgrades are meant to put the J-15 on par with the U.S. F-35s but before we get there, let's look back at the origins of the fighter jet.

The origins of J-15

The J-15 is a key combat plane for the Chinese military, and there are at least four variants of the aircraft that are being developed today. Over a decade ago, though, the Chinese navy was searching for a carrier-borne jet, and the J-15s development lagged behind the aircraft carrier development.

In 1998, China procured its first aircraft carrier, a Soviet-design warship, and was looking at purchasing the Russian Su-33 for deployment. According to the aired documentary on CCTV, the Chinese naval leaders decided to use the fighter jets then in service to build the J-15 and assigned the task to Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute (SADRI). Three years later, the J-15 was airborne and successfully landed on the aircraft carrier in December 2012.

The SCMP, however, reported that the decision to indigenously make the J-15 was taken after the deal for the Su-33s between Moscow and Beijing failed to materialize. Russia was looking at China to buy at least 50 aircraft, while Beijing was keen on developing the J-11B, the J-15's predecessor on the lines of the Su-27.

Years later, the J-15's dimensions are exactly the same as that of the Su-33, and its production models were even powered by the Russian Saturn AL-31F engines Defense News said in its report, effectively making it an unlicensed copy of the Russian aircraft. China has now been working on powering the J-15 with its indigenous WS-10 engines.

Face-off with U.S. fighter jets

Experts believe that the Chinese upgrades on the J-15s have made them much superior to their Russian counterparts, on which they are based. On the battlefield, the origin of the aircraft is irrelevant. What really matters is who would come out on top if the J-15 faced off with U.S. fighter jets.

According to Business Insider's report, the recent upgrades also include a short-range combat missile and have improved the payload-carrying capacity of the J-15. However, China's aircraft carrier technology now needs to play catch up since the ski-jumps on the carriers do not allow the J-15s to take off with full payload.

Even with all its upgrades, the J-15 can only be classified as a fourth-generation plus fighter aircraft and lacks the advanced technology that the U.S. fifth-generation fighters possess today. With the inferiorly powered WS-10 engines, the J15s might even find it hard to beat the fourth-generation F/A-18 of the U.S. Navy, experts told Business Insider.

While that might offer some relief, for now, the Chinese military is making progress very rapidly and differences appear to be thinning very quickly.

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