More recently, in April 2018, it was announced that production of the original J-15 model had ceased in favor of a new J-15B reportedly equipped with an Active-Electronically Scanned Array radar ‘equal to that on the F-35’, with higher resolution and lower probability of being detected by hostile radars. This will replace a mechanically scanned doppler radar on early model J-15s. Chinese media boasted that the new radar could help a J-15 detect the F-35 as well, though the real pertinent question is at what distance could it effectively do so.
Meanwhile, the newly unveiled two-seat J-15D (or possibly J-17) carrier-based electronic warfare jet demonstrate China’s ambition to parallel even specialized capabilities of the U.S. military—such as the EA-18G Growler. Apparently derived from an parently one-off J-15S two-seat trainer prototype, the J-15D is equipped with wing-tip jamming pods similar to the jammers on the Growler that are operated by the back seater, and doubtlessly retains the ability to launch anti-radar missiles. Like the J-16D, the J-15D has had its cannon and IRST turret removed and appears to make greater use of composite materials, likely to compensate for the added weight of jammers. Peter Coates at Submarine Matters also points out that a J-15’s YJ-91 anti-radiation missiles could also be lobbed from a distance at airliner-based airborne early warning and control aircraft (AWACS) which might lack the agility to evade.
Jamming and anti-radar capabilities are a necessary capability when facing virtually any adversary capable of shooting back with modern surface-to-air missiles. This would be particularly true if attempting to engagement with warships equipped with the sophisticated Aegis combat systems, which equips cruisers and destroyers of the U.S., Australian, Japanese and South Korean navies. Aegis networks the radars of multiple warships and respond to threat with a variety of short- and long-range missiles.
The J-16D would therefore enhance the survivability of Chinese strike jets in the Pacific and even might enhance the stealth capabilities of long-range ground-based J-20 stealth fighters. This could amount to a concept not unlike the pairing of Super Hornet and F-35C fighters in U.S. Navy carrier air wings. It seems the PLAN is determined to continue developing its carrier aviation branch with an eye on paralleling many capabilities formerly unique to the U.S. Navy.
Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
Image: The Shenyang J-15 Fēishā. Flickr