For its trio of aircraft carriers, China has difficulty finding pilots.

The Chinese navy is having trouble finding pilots for three aircraft carriers, including one that has just been launched, according to Chinese analysts.

Following the commissioning of the aircraft carrier Liaoning, the Chinese Navy has increased its carrier fighter pilot training programme over the past ten years. However, according to a piece in the Chinese military journal Far Eastern Science and Technology Industry, development has been impeded by the Chinese navy’s lack of a dedicated carrier-based trainer.

The Chinese navy requires at least 200 fighter pilots with the necessary qualifications to fly 130 aircraft on the Fujian aircraft carrier, which has been launched and is currently undergoing preliminary testing, according to Beijing-based naval analyst Li Jie.

While the two Liaoning and Shandong carriers have jumpers at the bow, the Fujian aircraft carrier is outfitted with an electromagnetic catapult modelled after the US battleship USS Gerald R Ford.

The Fujian battleship’s novel features forced the Chinese navy to learn how to use the brand-new aircraft carrier support system. The design of aircraft and the training of pilots are two of the most complex and demanding fields in the world, thus the technology is difficult, according to Mr. Lee.

The locally made JL-9G trainer aircraft, which has two seats and one engine, is used by Chinese naval pilots. The JL-9G is exclusively used for land-based simulation training because it is too light and slow to be utilised to simulate an emergency landing on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

According to an article in the Far East Science and Technology publication, the US has been training pilots on the T-45 Goshawk aircraft carrier for the past few decades. “To facilitate more effective fighter pilot training on ships, the US has built an improved variant of the T-7A Red Hawk with a more potent General Electric F404 engine.”

China presently only has one aircraft, the J-15 with two engines, the largest fighter jet in the world, that is capable of landing on an aircraft carrier. While the JL-9G trainer weighs 7.8 tonnes and can travel at a top speed of 1,100 km/h, the J-15 weighs 17.5 tonnes unarmed and can travel at speeds of more than 2,900 km/h.

“Since China lacks a training aircraft like the T-45, the J-15 is used for trainees’ training on aircraft carriers. Due to the restricted airspace, this makes it difficult to improve flight abilities. The Chinese magazine reported that there was a coach seated in the back.

China developed a two-seat variant of the J-15 with the designation J-15S, but the platform was later developed into the J-15D electronic warfare fighter. “The J-15S not being turned into a trainer is a problem,” said Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Tong, adding that the reason could be the high cost.

The Chinese Navy has since 2017 trained its own pilots for the service instead of selecting qualified candidates from the air force, an approach similar to that of the US military. Dai Mingmeng, who piloted the J-15 prototype during its maiden flight from the Liaoning aircraft carrier in November 2012, was one of the first five Chinese pilots to obtain carrier certification.

“There is still a long way to go before Chinese aircraft carrier fighter pilots can catch up with their American counterparts,” Dai Mingmeng said. “The Chinese pilots on board the Fujian may need another decade to reach the basic requirements of combat readiness. There is still a big gap between China and the US, which has experience in operating it. aircraft carriers for decades”.

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