The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Naval Aviation Force has taken the first steps toward changing from being based on the coast to being based on aircraft carriers. It has set up a carrier-based aircraft system with fighter jets, helicopters, early warning aircraft, and trainer jets, a top official of the force said, confirming for the first time that China has been working on carrier-based early warning aircraft and trainer jets.
The PLA Navy’s head of naval aviation, Dong Qing, said this on Wednesday at a forum in Qingdao, Shandong Province, East China, about the development of China’s naval aviation, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Military experts, analysts, and news stories have been speculating for a long time about China’s work on early warning aircraft and trainers that can fly from a carrier. Previous reports said that the Chinese version of the US E-2, the KJ-600 carrier-based early warning aircraft, would take its first flight in 2020. They also said that China was making carrier-based versions of the JL-9 and JL-10 trainer jets.
With the launch of the Fujian, China’s third aircraft carrier, on June 17, this year, the PLA Navy needs more carrier-based aircraft, both in terms of numbers and types.
With the electromagnetic catapults, the Fujian will be able to launch heavy aircraft like early warning aircraft. This can greatly increase the detection range and situational awareness of a carrier combat group, giving it better offensive and defensive capabilities, the expert said.
China will also need more pilots to fly these planes, and an expert said that carrier-based trainers will let cadets train on real carriers instead of using simulators on airfields. “Using trainer planes will also free combat planes from training missions so they can focus on fighting.”
Dong said that China has looked into two ways to train pilots to fly from a carrier: one trains land-based pilots to fly from a carrier, and the other trains new pilots to fly from a carrier.
Dong said that these two systems are well-known and work together to make sure that the PLA Naval Aviation Force has all the pilots it needs.
Dong says that 14 youth aviation schools have been set up in high schools across the country. These schools are now the main places where the PLA Navy finds pilot cadets to train.