The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has launched its first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, at the Dalian shipyard. It features numerous modifications from China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to increase the efficiency of her carrier air wing. This ex-Soviet carrier was acquired by China from Ukraine and first went to sea with fixed-wing aircraft onboard in late 2012.
Compared with the Liaoning, the "island" command center of the Type 001A has been reduced by 10 percent; the angle of the ski ramp has been reduced to 12 degrees, from 14 degrees; and the number of arresting wires is three instead of four. The hanger deck length is increased by 15 meters, giving space for about two more of the presumed primary equipment, the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark fighter. These modifications not only give the carrier more usable space, but also bear testament to the PLAN’s confidence in carrier operations. The Liaoning carries 24 J-15s, whereas the Type 001A is reported to carry around 36 of them.
The J-15 is a derirative of the Sukhoi Su-33 and first flew six years ago. Chinese media reported that production of the first batch of J-15s ended earlier this month. Chinese analysts estimate that it will take two to three years to fit out the new carrier and conduct sea trials. This will give Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and the various development institutes a timeline to complete trials and start production of new versions of the J-15, such as the J-15B, J-15D and J-15S.
Since 2013, there have been photos surfacing of the twin-seat J-15, known as the J-15S ("Shuang," or "twin"). It is understood that there might be about two to three J-15S airframes. Although no flight has been reported in recent years, Chinese analysts believe that the J-15S project is very much alive, as the twin-seat platform is crucial for the range of carrier air wing capabilities. These would include training, strike and even electronic warfare (with the latter version reported to be designated the J-15D).
More recently, there have been reports of a J-15B variant, which is a single-seat J-15 equipped with a Chinese active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The AESA is said to have detection range of beyond 170 km(approximately 106 miles). Analyst Cao Weidong said until the maturity of China’s catapult technology to deploy early warning aircraft, the J-15B will be extremely crucial in giving the carrier group enhanced air and surface pictures.