November 12, 2012: On November 2nd the Chinese J-15S naval fighter made its first flight. This is the two-seat version, with the guy in the rear being the weapons system officer (or WSO). Thus the J-15S is similar to the U.S. Air Force F-15E. During the last decade the U.S. Navy has abandoned two-seat fighter aircraft for carrier operations.
The J-15 appears ready for production. One was recently seen making touch and go landings on the new carrier Liaoning. This ship was recently spotted returning from a training cruise with skid marks near the landing arrestor wires, indicating that the aircraft had, for the first time, landed and taken off from the ship. Several J-15s have been seen at navy air bases painted as combat, not development, aircraft. About twenty J-15s have been built so far for use in testing. China is also using the JL-9 jet trainer for carrier operations as well as training.
For most of the last decade China has been developing the J-15, which is a carrier version of the Russian Su-27. There is already a Russian version of this, called the Su-33. Russia refused to sell Su-33s to China, when it was noted that China was making illegal copies of the Su-27 (as the J-11) and did not want to place a big order for Su-33s but only wanted two, for "evaluation." China eventually got a Su-33 from Ukraine in 2001, which inherited some when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
The first prototypes of the J-15 were under construction for two years, and the aircraft made its first flight two years ago. The Russians were not happy with this development. Russian aviation experts openly derided the J-15, casting doubt on the ability of Chinese engineers to replicate key features of the Su-33. That remains to be seen, as the Chinese have screwed up copying Russian military tech in the past. But the Chinese have a lot of experience stealing foreign tech and making it work, so the J-15 may well turn out to be at least as good as the Su-33. Meanwhile Russia itself has stopped using the Su-33 in favor of the cheaper MiG-29K (which is also being used by India).
The 33 ton Su-33 is larger than the 21 ton MiG-29K, and both types of aircraft were designed to operate from the three 65,000 ton Kuznetsovs the Soviet Union was building in the 1980s. But when the Cold War ended in 1991, only the Kuznetsov was near completion. The second ship in the class, the Varyag, was sold to China and was rebuilt as the Liaoning. The smaller Gorshkov (an older class of carrer) was rebuilt and sold to India (who believed the smaller MiG-29K was more suitable for this carrier).
Chinese JL-9 trainer aircraft have been spotted with a tailhook indicating use for training carrier aviators. The Chinese Navy has built some land based airstrips, in the size and shape of a carrier deck, so that carrier landings can be practiced. That prepares the new carrier aviator for the challenge of landing on a small space that is moving up and down, sideways, and forward.
The JL-9 is an upgraded version of the JJ-7 trainer, which was based on the J-7 (a Chinese copy of the Russian MiG-21). The JL-9 has side air intakes and a radar dome up front. It doesn't look a lot like a MiG-21 and is somewhat easier to fly. The JL-9 entered production last year and is several million dollars cheaper than its competitor, the twin-engine JL-15 trainer. Apparently, the Chinese believe that it's better, and cheaper, for new J-10 and J-11 pilots to learn in JL-9s, rather than spending more time in the pricey but similar in performance (to J-10s and 11s) JL-15s. Instead of the JL-15, the air force and navy are buying JL-9s and equipping some of them to operate from carriers.