A tandem variant of the J-15 fighter jet was spotted by military observers in a news program aired by China Central Television. Some speculate that designers have had to add another seat as one pilot operator cannot manage all the electronic warfare equipment fitted to the fighter.
The People’s Liberation Army currently operates the single-seat J-15, with a squadron already serving on the Liaoning carrier.
The tandem version sports a larger cockpit, as seen in news footage shot at an unspecified PLA training base for carrier-based pilots.
CCTV confirmed in a separate report on Tuesday that the model was a modified two-seater version of the J-15. The report stated that one mission could be electronic jamming with the extra operator and devices, including wingtip electronic warfare pods.
Questions are being asked about the likely combat effectiveness of the two-pilot J-15 given that even the single-seat model has to shed weaponry and fuel to reduce launch weight in order to get airborne from the bow of the Liaoning.
The J-15’s shortcomings are due to it belonging a third generation of fighters developed from the outdated Russian Sukhoi Su-33.
It is one of the heaviest carrier-borne fighters in operation anywhere in the world, with an unladen weight of 17.5 tons for a single-seat model. By comparison, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet weighs 14.6 tons.
The new model looks all the more outmoded compared with the short-takeoff and vertical-landing capabilities of the US Navy’s F-35s, which have become the backbone of the US force’s flattop fleet.
The J-15 is too heavy to fly high and far from the Liaoning when carrying weapons exceeding 12 tons, and, there are insufficient aircraft to fill both carriers when the second one, the Type 001A carrier, is slated to enter PLA service by October 2019.
However another article in the Global Daily suggests that the tandem version of the J-15 is devised for training purposes rather than combat operations.
The paper noted that the dashboards for both pilots are the same, so a trainee/cadet pilot can gain experience in flying the aircraft while under the watch of an experienced pilot.
This comes as the PLA faces a pilot shortage as well as a bottleneck in production of the J-15 fighter at a time when sea trials of the Type 001A carrier are proceeding at full steam.