Experienced deck UBS begins its first flight
In the foreseeable future, the naval forces of the People’s Liberation Army of China may receive a new combat training aircraft intended for training carrier-based aviation pilots. The machine was created on the basis of the existing UBS Guizhou JL-9G Shanying and differs from it in the ability to work on aircraft carriers.
The plans of the Guizhou Aviation Industry Company (GAIC) to develop a deck version of the UBS JL-9G “Shanying” (“Mountain Eagle”) became known back in 2010-11. At that time, GAIC was preparing for serial production of the basic modification of the aircraft, but was already making plans for the future. Subsequently, various reports on the progress of work have repeatedly appeared in the Chinese and foreign press.
In mid-March, the GAIC press service announced the completion of work on a project of particular importance in the interests of carrier-based aviation. The message was illustrated with computer graphics – an aircraft similar to the JL-9G was flying over a Chinese aircraft carrier. It was a very transparent allusion to a well-known project.
On April 20, GAIC announced the completion of the construction of the first prototype aircraft of the new model. The work was completed on time, and now it was planned to move to the testing stage – ground and then flight.
Ground checks did not take much time, and already on May 12, the deck version of the “Mountain Eagle” made its first flight. The tests are being carried out at Anshun Huangoshu Airport (Guizhou Province) and should take some time. How soon flight tests will move from the land airfield to the deck of an aircraft carrier is not reported.
The tested deck version of the “Shan’in” is another representative of a whole family of Chinese-designed combat training aircraft. Work on the first aircraft of the line, the future JL-9, started back in the mid-nineties. In 2001, the public was told about it, and at the end of 2003 the first flight took place.
Airplane in the air
At the turn of the decade, it became known about the development of a new modification of the “Mountain Eagle” under the designation JL-9G. It differed from the basic UBS in a modified and reinforced airframe, greater mass and a different power plant. At the expense of the latter, it was claimed, improved flight performance. In the past, there was speculation that the “G” version aircraft was intended for use in carrier-based aircraft. However, later it became clear that this was a “land” UBS, and another vehicle would be created for the fleet at its base.
Aircraft of the JL-9 Shanying line are intended for delivery to the PLA. UBSs are offered for export under the designation FTC-2000 Mountain Eagle. This technique is minimally different from the basic one and, probably, can be improved taking into account the wishes of the customer. To date, both the basic FTC-2000 and the improved FTC-2000G are available to order.
Serial production of JL-9 aircraft was launched in 2011, and almost simultaneously with it, the assembly of the more expensive and complex Hongdu JL-10 UBS was launched. It was assumed that the technique of the two types would complement each other and provide more effective training for pilots. Soon GAIC, having received an order from the PLA, mastered the production of newer JL-9G.
Export FTC-2000s are also mass-produced. Foreign orders are available and are being carried out. The more advanced FTC-2000G has been launched. The first production vehicle of this type took off in September 2018, and new ones followed.
The main features and capabilities of a promising UBS for the fleet are known. In general, it is based on the design of the serial ground-based JL-9G, but has characteristic differences associated with the features of the intended operation. In addition, a certain difference in the age of the two aircraft affected the composition of the equipment and, accordingly, the capabilities.
As previously reported, the JL-9G, which became the basis for the deck, differs from the simple JL-9 in an improved airframe. Some of the units have been reinforced, and a new wing has been developed. Used new supersonic air intakes, cutting off the boundary layer of the fuselage. The wing was also seriously rebuilt.
Production aircraft JL-9G in the assembly shop, 2015
In the context of creating a deck UBS, the need for additional reinforcement of some airframe and landing gear units, installation of a brake hook, etc. was mentioned. The need for a folding wing was not excluded. An aircraft with such technical features can be stored and operated on existing and future PLA aircraft carriers. He will be able to perform takeoffs from the bow springboard and land on the air arrestor.
The maximum take-off weight of the JL-9G and its specialized version reaches 11 tons. The aircraft is capable of reaching supersonic speed; cruising – 870 km / h. Maneuverability is provided at the level of serial fighters of the Air Force and the PLA Navy.
The onboard equipment of the deck version of the “Mountain Eagle” provides the ability to train pilots and solve combat missions. The aircraft has a radar station integrated into the sighting and navigation system, modern communication and navigation facilities, etc. A double tandem “glass” cockpit with redundant instruments and controls is intended for pilots.
Projects of the JL-9 family provide for the equipping of aircraft with a built-in 23-mm automatic cannon. There are five suspension points for weapons under the wing and fuselage. UBS carries at least 2 tons of weapons in the form of guided and unguided missiles and bombs. All this makes it possible to carry out a wide range of training and combat missions in the air-to-air and air-to-ground modes.
Currently, the PLA uses training and combat trainer aircraft of several types to train fighter pilots. The oldest and most widespread is the Hongdu JL-8, produced since the mid-nineties. In the early tenths, it was supplemented with modern Guizhou JL-9 and Hongdu JL-10; modifications of this technique have also been created.
In the recent past, the PLA naval aviation has formed two training regiments on JL-9 aircraft of two main modifications. The total number of their vehicles is approx. 40 units In the near future, it is possible to replenish the fleet with newer JL-9Gs.
With all this, in the training system of “sea” pilots, there is still no specialized deck UBS. After training on “land” aircraft, pilots immediately switch to deck-based Shenyang J-15s. The emergence of a new UBS project indicates that the command decided to change the training system and introduce a new stage into it – between training on the UBS / UTS exclusively land-based and the transition to military equipment of carrier-based aircraft.
How justified such a step is is not entirely clear. Other countries with developed carrier-based aircraft do without specialized UBS capable of landing on an aircraft carrier. This imposes some restrictions, which, however, are not considered critical. So far, only the PLA plans to abandon such a system.
The timing of the completion of the test program, as well as the start of serial production and the introduction of the deck-based JL-9G in the army, remains unknown. Tests of a new model of aviation technology, both at the airfields and on the deck, can take several years – although the use of a proven design of a serial aircraft provides some opportunities to accelerate these processes. It can be assumed that the mass operation of deck UBS in training units will begin by 2025.
Apparently, the deck version of the UBS “Mountain Eagle” will remain a model only for its own fleet. We should not expect the appearance of export orders. The new aircraft is being developed for operation on aircraft carriers, and only a few countries of the world have such ships. Most of these states will not buy Chinese equipment for political reasons. Others will not be interested in it because of different views on the training of flight personnel.
The PRC plans to further develop its aircraft carrier fleet, and with it carrier-based aircraft. There is a need for massive and high-quality training of pilots who will have to work on ships in the future. Various measures are being taken, and one of them is the creation of a specialized deck UBS. He has already reached the stage of flight tests, which in the future will be able to open the way for him to naval aviation.