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A Chinese newspaper is reporting that the People’s Liberation Army -Navy has upgraded its carrier-launched J-15 fighter jet with new wingtip missile pylons, wing configuration, radar and an infrared search and track system.
A few of these kinds of adjustments, depending upon their technological sophistication, could be significant, yet the upgrade does not really seem that significant for a number of reasons.
Should, for example, the infrared search and track targeting technology now integrated into the J-15 in any way parallel the F/A-18s recently added IRST, then it could present some challenges.
There is, however, no available information as to its level of sophistication, but the F/A-18 Infrared Search and Track targeting system, which has been integrated onto Super Hornets over the last few years, introduced advanced infrared targeting technology designed to function effectively in a spectrum-challenged environment. Given the large extent to which the future warfare environment is expected to have an EW component.
An even more im pactful adjustment may be the addition of a new radar. The Global Times speculates that the J-15s upgraded radar could be an Active Electronically Scanned Array, (AESA) system
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“This may mean that the upgraded J-15 could have switched to an advanced, active electronically scanned array radar system, which enables the use of China's most advanced PL-15 beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile,” the Chinese government-backed newspaper says.
The new wingtips also allow the upgraded jet to fire a more lethal PL-10 short-range combat missile, as opposed to the less lethal PL-8.
However, all of these upgrades may not rival or even come close to those already built into the F-15EX and F-35, which is built with advanced pylons, high-speed computing, AESA radar and next-generation targeting systems. Also, however upgraded and effective the new J-15 may be, China is still likely to operate with a substantial deficit when it comes to projecting fighter-jet power from the ocean.
At very best, an upgraded Chinese J-15 might rival a US carrier-launched F/A-18 Super Hornet, however it is still a fourth generation aircraft, meaning it will be unable to compete with a US carrier-launched F-35C or amphib-launched F-35B. Also, the Chinese may be building or adding aircraft carriers as quickly as possible, and now operate a larger Navy than the US, but its ability to project power seems vastly inferior to the US Navy’s 11-carrier-strong fleet.
In any kind of maritime warfare confrontation, Chinese carriers equipped with an upgraded J-15 would likely have a lot of trouble establishing air supremacy when pitted against F-35s at sea.
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While the upgraded J-15 may have a smoother configuration and slightly stealthier characteristics, the aircraft is not likely to do well against the most modern air defenses.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.