China is struggling to find enough trained pilots to operate fighter jets from its aircraft carriers

The Chinese Navy and its shipyards are working very hard from past some decades to make the People’s Liberation Army Navy as comparable as the United States Navy. In this process China has planned to introduce at least 5 carrier strike groups into its navy till 2030. Recently China launched its 3rd aircraft carrier named as “FUJIAN” in the month of June this year. This new aircraft carrier has the capacity to carry approximately 50+ fighter aircrafts. Now, a report has emerged in the chinese media that china lacks well-qualified fighter pilots, that can effectively operate jets on its two aircraft carriers.

China is struggling to find enough trained pilots to operate fighter jets from its two aircraft carriers – Type 003 aircraft carrier “FUJIAN” and Type 002 aircraft carrier “SHANDONG”. Now, China is planning to speed up its navy pilot training programme.

After the introduction of two new aircraft carriers, the demand of fighter pilots in the Chinese Navy has increased. Now the PLAN is struggling to meet these important goals. Currently, China operates the J-15 in limited numbers as the main carrier-based fighter. These reports about the lack of fighter jets was published by the Ordnance Industry Science Technology, a Chinese military magazine.

With Fujian, China’s third and most advanced aircraft carrier, having started its sea trials last week, the PLA needed at least 200 qualified carrier-based fighter jet pilots to operate fighter 130 ship-borne aircrafts, Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie was quoted as saying by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post on Saturday.

The Fujian is equipped with advanced electromagnetic catapults, similar to those on the US supercarrier Gerald R Ford.

China’s first two carriers uses ski-jump designs, so the Chinese Navy now need to master the newly introduced aircraft launching system.

“It’s full of challenges, as the aircraft design and pilot training are among the world’s most difficult and complicated core technologies, which offcourse no one will share with you,” Li said. He further added, while China is producing aircraft carriers at a fast speed, it is still a work in progress for the J-15 carrier-based fighter jets, which are said to be too heavy for deployment on aircraft carriers.

Dai Mingmeng, who flew a J-15 prototype on its maiden flight from the deck of Liaoning on November 3, 2012, when he was 41, was one of the first five Chinese pilots to achieve ship-borne certification. He and other senior carrier-capable pilots are now training the latest generation.

State-run China Central Television said the navy has directly recruited cadets from high school graduates aged between 16 and 19 since 2020. The average age of the latest generation of new naval aviation pilot cadets was 20, at least 10 years younger than their predecessors.

The PLA Navy started training its own pilots – rather than picking qualified candidates from the air force – following the establishment of the Naval Aeronautical University in Yantai, Shandong province, in 2017 – adopting the same approach as its US counterpart.

PLAN pilots use the Chinese-made JL-9G, a single-engine twin-seat aircraft first revealed in 2011, as a carrier-trainer variant, but it cannot be used to simulate emergency landings on a flight deck because of flaws such as being too light and too slow, Ordnance Industry Science Technology, said in a report marking the 10th anniversary of the Liaoning’s commissioning on September 25, 2012.

Those flaws have seen it confined to land-based simulated carrier training, the Post quoted the report.

The United States has been using the T-45 Goshawk carrier-qualified trainer to train its pilot cadets. Now, the Americans have developed a more advanced variant, the T-7A Red Hawk, which is equipped with a more powerful General Electric F404 afterburning turbofan engine that will make ship-borne fighter pilot training more efficient,” it said.

China’s only ship-borne fighter jet, the twin-engine single-seat J-15 Flying Shark, has been dubbed the world’s heaviest carrier-borne fighter as it weighs 17.5 tonnes with a maximum speed of Mach 2.4 – just over 2,960km/h while the gross weight of the JL-9G trainer is just 7.8 tonnes and it has a top speed of Mach 1.05.

“The PLA does not have the luxury of owning a trainer like the T-45, so Chinese pilot cadets’ carrier-based training entirely relies on flying the J-15, posing a great challenge to improving their flying skills [because of the absence of a back-seat coach],” the Chinese magazine’s report said.

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