Comparing China’s new J-15 with the F/A-18E/F as the ideal carrier aircraft

Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo of the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (a.k.a. “the Chinese Navy”) recently commented that the Shenyang J-15 is better than the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in terms of air-to-air combat, but slightly inferior with regard to engaging surface targets.

In terms of its performance compared to other carrier-based aircraft in service around the world, Yin Zhuo said that the J-15 capabilities are high. For instance, it reaches a similar level to the U.S. F/A-18C/D “Super Hornet”. While overall it is slightly inferior to the F/A-18E/F, it has better performance in air combat. Its ability to attack land and sea-based targets is lower than the F/A-18E/F, but it is at least equal to, and perhaps slightly better than, India’s Mig-29K.

Aviation analyst Andrei Pinkov gave a comparative analysis of the J-15 and the F/A-18:

“The orientation of F/A-18E/F is a fighter attacker, so that its maneuvering is not so good as the J-15, which derives from an air control fighter. This means that the J-15 is more likely to shoot down F/A-18E/F in close combat,” says Pinkov. “However, the ‘Super Hornet’ is able to take off with the assistance of catapult, so that its real payload is likely to exceed that of J-15, which takes off by means of ski-jump. Thus the U.S. fighter has advantages in terms of attack and combat radius.”

During 2013, the J-15 has made a series of test flights from China’s new aircraft carrier the ‘Liaoning’ as both the aircraft and carrier work-up to operational status. RAdm Yin Zhuo refused to confirm that the J-15 was already in mass production, but commented that online speculation is logical based on the facts that J-15 is already in service, and its technology is mature enough for mass production.

Yin Zhuo said that the full service life of the J-15 would be about 25 to 30 years. The fact that the J-15 and its variants are now regularly seen in flight, and taking off and landing on aircraft carriers, indicates that it will not be subject to any further major modifications. Once mass production is under way the aircraft design will be fixed other than in terms of possible changes to radar and electronic communication systems, or modernization of the engine after 10 to 15 years of service. However, the profile, basic finish, and performance standards of the aircraft have been established.

J-15 tied down on flight deck.