The Zambian air force showed off its new Hongdu L-15Z advanced trainer/light attack aircraft at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) show, held September 14 to 18 at Waterkloof AFB near Pretoria, South Africa. One aircraft was placed on static display while the other took part in the daily airshow. Although the type has made appearances at several Chinese shows, and also at MAKS in Russia, this is believed to be its first showing at a Western event.
Zambia ordered six L-15s in early 2014 to become the first export customer for the type. The first aircraft flew in December 2015, allowing training to begin. An initial batch, believed to comprise three aircraft, was delivered for service with No. 15 Squadron at Lusaka in July. Deliveries are due for completion in the first quarter of next year. Venezuela has also ordered the L-15, while China itself has received a small number with the designation JL-10.
Developed with technical assistance from the Yakovlev Design Bureau and first revealed in mock-up form in 2004, the Hongdu L-15 first flew on March 13, 2006. The aircraft has been developed in two versions: an advanced jet trainer (AJT) with non-afterburning Ivchenko/Progress AI-222-25 engines and an advanced fighter trainer (AFT) with a range of weapon options and afterburning AI-222K-25 engines, which confer supersonic capability. The prototypes flew with ZMKB/Progress (Lotarev) DV-2 engines. China’s Gas Turbine Research Establishment has developed an engine known as the Minshan that may power future production aircraft, although this might be a version of the AI-222.
Zambia’s aircraft are in theAFT configuration, with a small fire control radar that is believed to be a PESA (passive electronically scanned antenna) system. The aircraft have wingtip launch rails for PL-5E air-to-air missiles and can carry a PC-2AI 23-mm cannon pod on the centerline. Four hardpoints allow the carriage of various weapons, including 250-kg and 500-kg bombs, HF-18D 57mm rocket pods, LS-6 GPS-guided bombs and the TL-10/YJ-9E air-to-surface missile. Zambia has ordered all of these weapons.
For the Zambian air force the L-15 represents a major step-up in capability and introduces the service to fly-by-wire controls and a modern aircraft with embedded training systems. Zambia already operates the Hongdu K-8 jet trainer, with the MiG-21 as its front-line fighter. Two K-8s from the Zimbabwe air force also attended the AAD show.