Deck Of China’s Nearly Complete Carrier Now Hosting Multiple Aircraft Mockups

The sight of mock fighters, a trainer, and an early warning and control aircraft on the Fujian gives a glimpse of its future air wing.

byOliver Parken|
Mockups seen on the deck of the Chinese carrier Fujian
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New imagery of China's aircraft carrier Fujian shows the vessel with the fullest deck we've seen to date. A total of five aircraft mockups — including model fighters, a trainer, and an early warning and control aircraft — can be seen embarked. This comes as Fujian is expected to head out for sea trials in the very near future.

Visuals of the five mockups on Fujian's deck have been circulating on social media, which stem from an overhead picture of the vessel apparently taken by a passenger in a plane who recently flew past it. Also known as the Type 003, Fujian was launched in June 2022, and is presently in the final stages of being fitted out at the Changxing Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai. The first fully Chinese-designed carrier, Fujian will also become the first People's Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, carrier to launch aircraft via catapults rather than by a ski jump.

Andreas Rupprecht, a longtime China aerospace observer and contributor to The War Zone, posted a handy labeled version of the image on X, linked below. Having all of these mockups on board all at once, with the opportunity to move them around as desired, will no doubt provide the PLAN with insight into what it will take to maneuver their real counterparts during actual operations. At this stage, the carrier's arresting wires have been setup, and the deck has been painted.

One of the more unusual mockups seen is of a JL-10 jet trainer, positioned towards the middle of the deck. A carrier capable variant of the land-based JL-10, the JL-10J, is expected to eventually be stationed aboard Fujian. Previously, visuals of what is likely a JL-10J mockup on the dockside at the Changxing Jiangnan shipyard have circulated online.

The recent imagery also shows two Shenyang J-15 fighter mock-ups on deck, one at either end. At least one J-15 mockup has been spotted on Fujian before. The J-15T, a catapult-variant of the J-15, will likely be a staple on the vessel. Moreover, the PLAN's Type 001 Liaoning and Type 002 Shandong carriers, which are short takeoff but arrested recovery (STOBAR) kinds, already fly the baseline J-15.

A satellite image of Fujian taken on April 14, 2024. PHOTO © 2024 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION.

According to Rupprecht, at least one of the J-15 mockups seen in the most recent images of Fujian is meant to resemble a J-15D; the electronic warfare version of the aircraft. You can read more about the J-15D and its capabilities here.

In addition, a mockup of a navalized variant of the Shenyang J-35 stealth fighter can also be seen on deck. At least one J-35 mockup has been spotted on Fujian before, as early as December last year.

Designed specifically to be launched via catapult, the navalized variant of the J-35 has been expected to be a part of Fujian's future air wing for some time. There are indications that it could operate alongside J-15s from Liaoning and Shandong, too, which you can read more about here.

A KJ-600 carrier-based airborne early-warning (AEW) aircraft mockup is also visible. Its presence aboard Fujian comes after one was ostensibly spotted on the carrier's deck last month.

Developed by the Xi’an Aircraft Company, the KJ-600 is a twin turboprop aircraft similar in both form and function to the U.S. Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye. The KJ-600, like the E-2, can carry a crew of four to six and features a large radar above the fuselage, providing critical airborne surveillance and aerial battle management capabilities, which will be new to Chinese carrier aviation.

KJ-600 on the ramp of the Xi'an Aircraft Company plant, March 2022. Google Earth

It should be noted that other aircraft types will embark on Fujian once it's in service, too, including helicopters. It's becoming more apparent that stealthy drones will likely also be part of the carrier's air wing.

Whatever the exact composition of Type 003’s air wing, it's likely we won't have to wait long to find out what aircraft it consists of. It's been reported that the vessel could be handed over to the PLAN as early as 2025. Yet the new imagery gives us more and more of a glimpse into what Fujian and its deck could look like in actual future operations.

Beyond Fujian, the PLAN has significant ambitions to add to its flattop fleet in the future. Moreover, its rapidly growing big-deck amphibious assault ship cadre could well become capable of launching a range of different unmanned fixed-wing aircraft in their own right, too. This is all part of Beijing's vision of expanding its naval capabilities.

We will keep our eyes peeled for what comes next for Fujian as it swiftly approaches at sea trials.

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