Friday, January 30, 2015

China's Advanced Trainers

Recently, a flurry of articles of come out about JL-9 series of GAIC and L-15 (JL-10) series of HAIG. With all of the progress that's made in China's military aviation industry, the progress amongst advanced trainers have been rather slow, with Hongdu's products L-15/JL-10 and CJ-7 being the slowest and most frustrating.

Guizhou and Hongdu both unveiled their AJT projects and had maiden flight around the middle of last decade. At the time, GAIC started the JL-9 project earlier and also had a simpler design, so was expected to finish quickly. Hongdu was the sexier project with more advanced layout, higher specs and turbofan engine. After 10 years, the question is where does that leave us with the future of China's AJT fleet?

Recently, I've found news from Guizhou that they are producing 3 types of AJTs: JJ-7A, JJ-9 and JL-9G. Now, I find it quite interesting they are still producing JJ-7A, but that may just indicate JL-9 series itself has taken longer than expected to be produced. I remember as early as 2005, JL-9 was already undergoing testing in CFTE, but had to undergo some changes after. It seemed like JJ-9 was delivered to FTTC for evaluation by the end of last decade. It seemed to have taken another 4 years after that for the first regiment to be delivered with JJ-9 in 2013 even after achieving design certification in 2011. It's quite possible that more changes were made during this time based on issues found by FTTC. This past year, more JJ-9 was delivered to both PLAAF and PLANAF, which would indicate the program is finally on track and have satisfied PLA requirements. At the same time, moire articles have come out praising GAIC for the various types of JL-9 that have been developed. At around the time CV-16 project was picking up speed, work for a naval trainer also started with JL-9G. It's unclear to me at this point if this variant is only aimed for naval aviation since tail hook is no longer installed. Several improvements were made to allow JL-9G to handle the greater stress and higher takeoff/landing requirements of naval aviation. At the moment, it has only entered service with PLANAF. Based on the greater payload of JL-9G vs JJ-9, it seems like an aircraft that could also be adapted for light attack roles. It is a very low cost platform ($8.5 million each based on recent Chinese reports) and also extremely cheap to operate even compared to other AJTs. I would imagine the proposed FTC-2000G design could bring in sales in numerous countries that are currently using J-7s and K-8s. So while I would place GAIC below other major AVIC1 design bureaus like CAC and SAC, it has managed to develop an effective aircraft.

Hongdu is a different story. It has been over 10 years since L-15 was displayed in the 2004 Zhuhai air show and almost 9 years since it made its maiden flight in March 2006. To this day, it still has yet to join service with PLAAF. Through much of this time, only 4 flying prototypes were produced. If it was not for the steady cash flow of K-8 series, it would be hard to see how this company could really survive the lack of progress in its next major project. The interesting part is that Hongdu did get order for 6 L-15s from Zambia in 2012 and 3 L-15s recently did test flights since the turn of new year. it's quite possible that they will all be delivered to Zambia in the first half of this year. There were also reports that Venezuela ordered 24 L-15s. Similar to the K-8 project, L-15 will most likely be delivered for export before even getting evaluated by PLA. JL-10, which is the Chinese version of L-15 AJT, had its maiden flight in 2013. Apparently, a small batch of JL-10 will be produced and delivered to FTTC this year for trial and evaluation. Only after that and possible more modifications will JL-10 join service with Also, there is always the question of engine. JL-8 did not join service with PLA until the domestic WS-11 engine available. It's quite possible that will also be the case with JL-10. As shown in the JJ-9 project, it took several year of trial and evaluation + changes before it went into production. If that happens, one can expect JL-10 to join service after the first J-20 regiment gets formed. By then, the domestic Minshan engine might be ready for JL-10 project. I think it speaks for Hongdu's ability as a design bureau that an AJT takes this long to get developed for PLAAF, but they do seem to be really good at selling their product. The K-8 project is still selling well after 300 export and 400 domestic order. L-15/JL-10 program can certainly follow K-8's path, because it is a fairly advanced AJT design that could also be adapted for other roles.

So in summary, China has finally moved on from JJ-7 series of advanced jet trainers. Even so, JL-10 project is still a couple of years away from really joining service. By that point, it will serve as a good LIFT for the 5th generation fighter jet that China is developing.


Meng-yuan said...

My understanding is that the PLA simply refuse to equip a trainer without domestic engines, so there was really no rush on L-15. Hence the delay.

Feng said...

PLAAF prefers products that are ready. At the time, GAIC had something that was ready, meets requirements and cheaper to purchase/operate, so they picked JL-9 first. Even so, it's a wonder to me that Hongdu has taken this long to be ready.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me the JF-17 does not have much of a future, so why not use it as a trainer? Last I heard PLAF is committed to buying 150 JF-17s.