What planes will be on board China’s second aircraft carrier, the Shandong?

Kristin Huang

China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier, the Shandong, officially entered into service last week, making China one of only a handful of countries to have more than one carrier.

Although China lags well behind the US in terms of operational capability, the Shandong – together with its sister ship, the Liaoning – marks an important stepping stone in terms of naval development and could offer a platform for expeditionary missions abroad in future.

According to an article published by Naval and Merchant Ships, a publication issued by the Chinese Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the following aircraft are expected to be deployed on the warship.  

J-15 fighter jet

The Shenyang J-15, also known as the Flying Shark, is a fourth generation, twin-jet, all-weather, carrier-based fighter jointly developed by Chinese navy’s 601 institute and Shenyang Aircraft Corporation.

It was developed from an earlier model, the J-11B, with elements taken from the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 air superiority fighter.

The J-15, with a maximum take-off weight of 33 tonnes, is the heaviest active carrier-based fighter jet in the world but the only one available to the PLA Navy.

Chinese J-15 fighter jets on the deck of the Shandong’s sister ship, the Liaoning. Photo: AFP

Its weight is one of the key reasons military leaders have pushed for the use of an electromagnetic aircraft launch system – rather than steam-powered catapults – on China’s third carrier, which is currently under construction.  

Z-18 transport helicopter

The Z-18 is a new generation military transport helicopter. It was developed by Changhe Aircraft Industry Corporation and is reportedly based on the civilian Avicopter AC313. The latter was developed from an earlier model, the Harbin Z-8, which was itself a Chinese version of the French Aerospatiale Super Frelon. 

The Shandong officially entered service in a ceremony in Hainan. Photo: Handout

The maritime variant is the Z-18F “Sea Eagle” and will be capable of carrying out anti-submarine warfare missions armed with Yu-7K lightweight torpedoes, as well as anti-surface warfare missions using YJ-9 anti-ship missiles. Several variants are also in the pipeline for early warning and reconnaissance missions. 

A Russian Navy Kamov Ka-31. The helicopters are also used by the Chinese and Indian armed forces. Photo: Wikipedia

KA-31 helicopter

The Kamov Ka-31, also named Helix by Nato, is a helicopter originally developed for the Soviet Navy, and is now used by the Russian, Chinese and Indian militaries.

One distinctive visual feature of the Ka-31 is the early-warning radar’s large rotating antenna, which can be folded and stowed under the fuselage. The second is the reduction of the bulky electro-optical sensor suite beneath the cockpit. The landing gear retracts to prevent interference with the radar.

A Harbin Z-9C helicopter is based on an older French model. Photo: Wikipedia

Z-9C helicopter

The Z-9, manufactured by Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation, is a Chinese military utility helicopter with civilian variants.

The first Z-9 flew in 1981, and was built in China from components supplied by French state-owned aerospace manufacturer Aérospatiale as part of a production patent bought the previous year.