With China’s increased self-reliance on aero engine technology, its carrier-based fighter jet, the J-15 Flying Shark, has become the latest PLA Air Force combat aircraft to receive domestically developed turbofan engines.
On the tenth anniversary of the fighter jet’s first takeoff and landing on PLA’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning, a newly produced J-15 appeared fitted with what seemed to be the Chinese WS-10 engines.
The report first appeared on the Chinese state-controlled CCTV on November 23.
The development is significant as the J-15, a reverse-engineered version of the Su-33 Flanker of the Soviet Union, was the last fighter of the Flanker family to still run on the AL-31F Russian engines.
J-10 and its latest iteration re-engined J-10C, J-11, J-16, and J-20 fighter jets have received indigenously developed WS-10 engines.
As could be seen in the recently published video, the WS-10 engines are visible in the rear view of an operational J-15 parked inside a hangar.
Until this point, only a single prototype of the first-generation J-15 was known to have been powered by Chinese-made engines. As soon as the video got viral online, netizens started to speculate whether this J-15 could be an all-new aircraft with a new airframe.
EurAsian Times reached out to PLA Aviation Analyst Andreas Rupprecht, who said, “As such, there are several options: first, it could be indeed a new batch of improved J-15s – Huitong calls it the J-15G (G stands for improved ), but I’m rather skeptical about this idea. The second option could be a single converted aircraft acting as a test bird compared to the regular ones in use to replace all AL-31 engines later. And the third option could be it is indeed a fleet-wide re-engine program replacing all AL-31F engines … but I think we should wait as it is too soon to conclude from a single imagery.”
This could be another major surprise 😮
The PLAN Naval Aviation converted at least one J-15 to WS-10B engines replacing the standard Russian AL-31F, so after only a few prototypes tested it in the early phase, this is eventually a hint that the WS-10 is ready for the J-15 too. pic.twitter.com/sTwdVnQU2k
— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) November 23, 2022
Seems as if there are several J-16 being fitted out alongside one J-15 and that’s what wonders me:
Huitong has updated his Blog to this:
But IMO it is not a new-built J-15 and even less likely a new batch called J-15G, but “just” a reengineered regular serial one.
— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) November 23, 2022
According to the CCTV report, calibration will be completed at the end of the manufacturing process since the aircraft must pass several inspections before and after a test flight and before it is delivered to the military.
While there is little information on the aircraft, this is the first time an operational J-15 has been fitted with the locally developed Taihang engines. Despite going through a fair share of technical problems over the years, the WS-10 engines have finally made it to the Flanker family of aircraft in the Chinese arsenal.
Flying Sharks Will Soar High With WS-10 Engines
In the early 2000s, a test bed J-11 fighter jet with an AL-31F in the left nacelle was the first to be equipped with a single WS-10. Ultimately, the WS-10 became China’s first commercially successful turbofan engine, weaning it off its dependency on Russia and allowing it to join the league of select countries that have aced the technology.
The Shenyang J-15, also known as the Flying Shark, is a Chinese all-weather, twin jet, and Carrier-based 4th-generation multi-role carrier-borne fighter aircraft developed for the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force.
The integration of domestic engines into the J-15 suggests that the PLA is satisfied with the reliability and prowess of these engines for carrier operations.
While other aircraft of the Flanker series have received the Taihang engines, it was only the carrier-based J-15s that were being powered by the Russian Al-31F engines, as carrier operations are very demanding. It is pertinent to note here that the WS-10 was initially developed for land-based operations.
Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told Global Times that this is due to carrier operation being very demanding as it necessitates the engine having a higher acceleration rate and enduring a more substantial impact during takeoff and landing, as well as facing harsher working environments like high saline and high humidity, which could cause corrosion and adversely affect the engine’s dependability and lifespan.
With the integration of the engine with the J-15, Fu said, “It is likely at the same level or even slightly better than its US counterpart.”
Given the J-15’s limited production run, halted in late 2017, there had been a previous argument that modifying the WS-10 for naval missions might not be worthwhile. By 2020, though, production of the fundamental J-15 had restarted, with at least 65 aircraft having been produced and probably several more.
The decision to re-engine the J-15 means China will no longer have to source the AF-31F engines from Russia. It was believed that Russia was somewhat reluctant to supply these engines to China.
In addition, although work is being done on a more technologically advanced potential successor of the Flying Shark, especially the stealthy J-35, new engines for the J-15 are likely also a hint that the carrier fighter’s future is secure for the time being .
The generation five stealth J-35 is expected to operate from the under-construction Type 004 carrier and be ruled out of entire operations from the Type 003 Fujian launched recently. The PLAN’s combat naval aviation, air superiority, and multi-role fighter fleet will continue to be supported by the J-15B, operating from the Liaoning and Shandong carriers.
Chinese military observers eagerly await additional details on the new carrier-based aircraft, including a catapult-launched and enhanced version of the J-15 and the domestically built engine for the J-15. China now has three aircraft carriers making it a formidable naval force in the region and beyond.