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China’s Getting a New Aircraft Carrier Plane. But Don’t Get Too Excited.

The Chinese navy is getting close to fielding a new carrier-compatible warplane.

But the new version of the single-engine JL-9 primarily is a trainer, not a front-line fighter. While the naval JL-9 could help China to train more aviators for its growing fleet of flattops, it probably won’t do much to boost the combat capabilities of the carriers’ embarked air wings.

The prototype of the naval JL-9 on April 19, 2020, rolled out of Guizhou Aviation Industry Corporation’s factory. A few days later the diminutive trainer was ready for its first flight.

“This type of aircraft is expected to serve as an aircraft carrier-based trainer, which China is in desperate need [of] to train more aircraft carrier-based fighter jet pilots,” state-owned Global Times noted.

Guizhou reportedly removed the drag-parachute from the basic JL-9 in order to make it carrier-compatible. All conventionally-landing carrier planes also require a tail hook for making arrested landings on carrier decks. Naval planes also tend to have tougher landing gear than do their strictly land-based counterparts.

The land-based JL-9, a derivative of a Chinese MiG-21 clone, is in service in small numbers with the Sudanese air force as well as with the Chinese air force and navy. Guizhou reportedly tried a few years ago to develop a carrier version of the JL-9 but the variant proved unsuitable. The current naval JL-9 apparently represents the company’s second attempt to place the trainer on carrier decks.

The need is clear. “China does not have an aircraft carrier-based trainer jet to train fighter pilots and have to first train them on a land-based trainer, then switch directly to the actual J-15 fighter jet,” Global Times explained.

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