On April 26, Xinhua, the mouthpiece of the communist regime, published an article to commemorate a Chinese carrier-based J-15 fighter jet pilot, who died in an accident as a result of his jet’s electronic control system malfunctioning during a landing; the article inadvertently revealed the weakness of the carrier’s combat capabilities.
There have always been doubts about the true capability of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) aircraft carriers and their carrier-based J-15 pilot training. This unprecedented report appears more of an attempt to restore public confidence, as the CCP’s media rarely publicizes such accidents involving the military.
In fact, the Xinhua article revealed the story about Zhang Chao, a former naval first-class fighter jet pilot who was killed in a carrier landing practice five years ago, while at the same time, it claimed that the carrier-based fighter jet J-15 “achieved the technical breakthrough in night takeoff and landing,” in an apparent attempt to prove that the country’s carriers have acquired nighttime combat capability.
On April 23, Xi Jinping made a special trip to attend a commissioning ceremony of three new warships at a naval base in Sanya, southern China’s Hainan province. While the Liaoning Carrier is probably on her way back to its base Qingdao, the other one—the Shandong Carrier—is probably still in Sanya. Obviously, Xi did not take the opportunity to pay a visit to that carrier. Although the CCP media has claimed that its two aircraft carriers are a symbol of national power, their actual combat capability has never been tested in a marine conflict and is questionable. Xi Jinping should be aware of that, or maybe he doesn’t want to be involved, but the party media is still making a big deal out of it.
While Xinhua deliberately wanted to show to the outside world that China’s aircraft carriers are not bad, it inadvertently revealed a fatal accident of the carrier-based fighter jet J-15. As the article described, “On April 27, 2016, when J-15 pilot Zhang Chao was practicing a simulated landing, his jet’s control system suddenly malfunctioned on touchdown, causing the jet to pitch up quickly. 4.4 seconds later, Zhang ejected from the cockpit at an altitude that was not high enough above the ground for his parachute to function, and Zhang fell [to his death].”
The Chinese regime had no carrier-based fighter jets. Initially, it wanted to buy them from Russia but was not able to negotiate an acceptable price. It later got a Su-33 prototype, T-10K-7, from Ukraine, so it decided to make its own carrier-based fighter jet J-15 by imitating the Su-33 prototype. However, T-10K-7 has its inherent major flaws for a carrier-based jet, making it difficult for the J-15 to pass critical tests.
After Zhang’s death, he was praised as a national “martyr,” but actually he was a victim of the Chinese regime’s attempt to copy technology it had stolen.
Xinhua attributed the accident to a “sudden malfunction of the control system,” which at least indicates that the J-15 should have passed more rigorous testing before it was delivered to the military in a hurry. The Chinese carrier pilots have to put their lives at high risk in training, and it’s really not fair for them to make ultimate sacrifices to become national “martyrs.”
But the pilots’ lives and safety don’t seem to be what the regime is really concerned about, as shown in the following paragraph in the article.
“In 2017, Zhang’s former comrade, Zhao Hongliang, said a lot in front of Zhang’s tombstone: ‘Do you know? Just last month the J-15 achieved the technical breakthrough in night takeoff and landing.’” The technical breakthrough was actually the key focal point of the headline and the Xinhua article.
Carrier Pilots’ True Training Level Revealed
According to Xinhua, Zhao had been one of Zhang’s Air Force comrades before Zhang became a carrier pilot. When Zhang was selected to join the carrier-based fighter jet pilot unit, Zhao did not get picked but later became a flight instructor, focusing on developing the “key skills” of carrier pilots in air combat.
Let’s think about it, Zhao, originally disqualified as a carrier pilot, was later tasked to train carrier pilots. Nonetheless, Xinhua in the article boasts that “China has entered the era of ‘dual aircraft carriers,’ and its independent training system of Chinese carrier-based fighter jet pilots has become more and more perfect.”
The CCP media has basically revealed how good the training system of the Chinese carrier pilots really is, and how much risk there is for those pilots. The article concludes by saying, “This cause needs people who are not afraid of death.”
The communist regime does not value human life, wilfully subjecting its pilots to high-risk training conditions. As for those young pilots, is it worth dying for the regime’s cause?
J-15 Still in Trial Production
To the Chinese regime, developing the carrier-based jet J-15 has been hampered by difficulties and issues, as a number of accidents have been disclosed by the CCP media, intentionally or unintentionally, over the years.
While the first test flight of a J-15 took place in August 2009, the second prototype had a test flight in April 2011, with an improved turbofan-10H engine, which later had to be replaced by reverting to the Russian-made AL-31F engine.
As of 2017, the CCP had claimed to have 24 of these aircraft made.
In April 2017, the Chinese Central Television confirmed that the Shandong Carrier would be equipped with the J-15B.
According to the available data on J-15, its maximum safe takeoff weight is 28.7 tons on the 344-foot short takeoff runway of the Liaoning, so at takeoff, it can only carry two Perak-12 air-to-air missiles, two Perak-8B combat missiles, and 9 tons of fuel.
Russia has already abandoned the Su-33 and replaced it with the Mig-29 as its carrier aircraft. The Chinese regime has long set its eye on the next generation of its carrier aircraft—J-16, J-20, or even J-31.
Regardless of what next-generation jet it wishes to have, J-15 is still the only one available to the regime at this stage, so the trial production and further testing of the J-15 will continue. Meanwhile, Chinese carrier-based aircraft pilots will be forced to be “fearless of death” as guinea pigs.
No matter how embarrassing the CCP aircraft carriers’ actual performance turns out to be, the state-run media will continue their propaganda work with their “dual carriers” bluff.
Shen Zhou, a former design engineer for military vehicles, is a China observer who has paid close attention to the Chinese regime’s military expansion over the years. He started contributing to The Epoch Times in 2020.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.