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L-15 Set to be Aircraft Carrier Trainer

DEFENSE AND TECHNOLOGY -- A video of the Hongdu Aviation Industries Group's 65th anniversary celebration has revealed that an armed version of the company's L-15 Falcon advanced trainer is undergoing flight testing and hinted that the company may be developing a variant for aircraft carrier training.

The L-15 was initially promoted as an advanced jet trainer (AJT) and has been ordered by the China's People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) to fill that role under the designation JL-10.

A Hongdu brochure obtained at the 2015 Paris Airshow indicated that a lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) version was also being developed. The LIFT version was said to have "afterburning engines, high-performance fire control radar, and weapons-carrying capacity for combat missions."

Images appeared on Chinese websites in October 2015 showing an L-15 carrying a small radar, possibly a passive electronically scanned array (PESA) with a reported range of about 75 km: a development that would greatly improve the aircraft's air-to-air combat capability.

Adding to the confusion, a model of an armed L-15 described as the attack/fighter/trainer (AFT) version was displayed during the Singapore Airshow in February.

An L-15 was not seen flying with weapons until the Hongdu anniversary video appeared on Chinese websites in early May. The aircraft was seen taking off with PL-5II air-to-air missiles, a centre-fuselage pod carrying a 23 mm cannon and underwing fuel tanks.

It also carried two Luoyang Electro Optical Technology Development Center LS-6 extended-range guided bombs. Introduced in 2006, the LS-6 has fold-out wings that give it a range of up to 60 km.

The L-15 in the video appeared to have non-afterburning turbofans, most likely the Lotarev DV-2s or the non-afterburning Progress AI-222-25 used in the L-15 prototypes. The production version of the L-15 is expected to use the 5 tonne-thrust Minshan afterburning engine that is currently being developed by the Guizhou Aero Engine Research Institute.

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