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Fresh batch of Chinese J-15 pilots to bolster aircraft carrier’s fighting force

A new batch of fighter pilots graduated this month as part of the military’s efforts to build up its aircraft carrier’s fighting force.

After three years of intensive training, the biggest class of J-15 fighter jet pilots graduated earlier this month, the PLA Daily reported in a front-page article yesterday. The report showed 16 pilots receiving certificates from Rear Admiral Ding Yi, deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, on the deck of the carrier, the Liaoning.

Each of the graduates had practised group take-offs and landings on the carrier, demonstrating a “collective fighting capability”, the report said.

Military observers said the report suggested the navy now had at least 40 carrier-based fighter jet pilots, with more than two dozen trained in the first five batches.

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Beijing-based naval analyst Li Jie said the 16 new graduates could help speed up the roll-out of the fighting group for the country’s first home-grown aircraft carrier, a Type 001A vessel.

“The hull of the 001A will be launched in the first half of next year, but it will take at least two years after that to form a real fighting flotilla,” Li said.

“Internal hardware and software must be installed, trained staff assigned, and escort warships put in place.”

Jane’s Defence Weekly reported last week that the first 001A aircraft carrier was largely complete, with just an aircraft elevator, superstructure and some deck sections to be finished.

Satellite images showed that in addition to the 001A carrier, production of its key partner, the Type 052D guided-missile destroyer, was also being accelerated, according to Jane’s.

The images were from Airbus Defence and Space, a division of the Airbus Group, a European multinational aerospace and defence corporation.

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The PLA Daily report said this month’s graduates were classmates of Zhang Chao, a 29-year-old PLA pilot who died when his ­J-15 fighter jet crashed during a landing exercise in April. The navy suspended all J-15 training flights for nearly two months after Zhang’s death, which state media reported after the training resumed last month.

A source close to the navy said the hanger of a 001A could hold at least 20 jets – more than the Liaoning – after removing its missile system.

Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said there were still many key technical problems in the development of the J-15, the main carrier jet.

Wong said the official pictures did not show any new J-15s on the Liaoning, suggesting problems in the aircraft’s production.

According to Wong, military insiders said pilot training had revealed faults in the J-15’s flight system and ejection seats.

“The J-15’s manufacturers have still failed to detail whether they have solved the problems. They are in too much of a rush to resume training to meet a political task,” Wong said.