China has the world’s largest navy, according to the Pentagon’s latest assessment, and it continues to grow. In recent years, the country has managed to field two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, both of which carry complements of Shenyang J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter jets.The Soviet-style carriers have air wings consisting of 20 to 30 J-15 fighter aircraft.
China argues that the J-15 is comparable to the US Navy’s F/A-18, in some cases even possessing advantages over the US Navy’s primary carrier-based strike fighter. The J-15 is capable, but if the Chinese carrier fighter went head-to-head with an F/A-18, it would likely get slaughtered, experts said.
Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s J-15 is based on an incomplete prototype of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-based air-superiority fighter that China acquired from Ukraine and then reverse engineered. As such, it has not always been the most reliable of aircraft.It also has underpowered engines, but that is not to say it is without positive attributes.
Compared to the US F/A-18s, both the Hornet and newer Super Hornet, the J-15 is a heavier aircraft able to carry more weapons and fuel, and it can fly higher and faster. “In air-to-air combat, those can be really important factors,”.
The problem is that the J-15 is unable to leverage a lot of its advantages because of the limitations of China’s current aircraft carriers. The Liaoning, the Chinese sister ship of Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, is “not very impressive,” China experts have told Insider.
The ship was originally an unfinished hull of a Soviet heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser that China obtained from Ukraine and refitted. The Liaoning was commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy in 2012.