China Needs Advanced Jet Trainers But L-15 Not Yet Confirmed

 - April 19, 2013, 1:00 PM
China displayed a prototype L-15 advanced jet trainer at the 2009 Dubai Air Show. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The fatal crash of an Su-27UBK fighter trainer of the China’s People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in late March has called attention to the lack of advanced jet trainers for pilots of China’s third-generation fighters, the Su-27, J-10 and J-11. But although the L-15 has been under development by Nanchang-based Hongdu Aviation Industry Group (HAIG), there is no confirmation from within China that the PLAAF has placed a substantial production order. AIN previously reported that 250 AI222-25F turbofans had been ordered from the Ukraine, to power the L-15.

Chinese media reported recently that the first batch of L-15s, 12 in all, is to be delivered by year-end. But it seems that most, if not all, of these aircraft will be exported. Although acknowledging the need for new advanced jet trainers, the PLAAF has apparently ordered only four L-15s to date. The PLAAF would likely need approximately 400 such aircraft to meet the growing demands of its new fighter fleet in the years to come.

The L-15 faces strong competition from an alternative advanced jet trainer developed by Guizhou Aircraft Industry (GAI), the L-9. This is an update of the JL-7 produced at Guizhou for many years and derived from the Soviet-era MiG-21U. The L-9 was previously known as the FTC-2000 Shanying (Mountain Eagle). Both HAIG and GAI are subsidiaries of state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (Avic).

The training of a PLAAF pilot starts with the CJ-6 basic trainer and then progresses to the HAIG L-8 jet (more commonly known by its export designation of K-8) and the JL-7 for more demanding training. Those assigned to fly the Su-27/J-11 then move onto the small fleet of 40 Su-27UBKs, now down to 39. China now has more than 300 Su-27/J-11 third-generation fighters.

Avic is currently developing an engine named the Minshan for the L-15, but the initial production types of the L-15 are evidently powered by the Ukrainian AI222. The aircraft itself resembles Russia’s Yak-130 advanced jet trainer.

The first L-15 prototype made its maiden flight in 2006.