Viral In China! PLA Navy’s J-15D EW Aircraft Trends On Social Media; Might Be Ready For Serial Production?

Months after the Chinese state media flaunted the Electronic Warfare (EW) version of China’s carrier-borne J-15 fighter, a new photo has surfaced on Chinese social networking site Weibo, giving rise to speculation that the aircraft may have entered serial production.

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The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) first posted the image in question on the Chinese social media site Sina Weibo, which went viral shortly after. The photo was then posted to other social media sites outside China, including Platform X (previously Twitter).

Chinese military aviation specialist Andreas Rupprecht published the photo on Platform X, adding that the J-15D “may finally be a serial aircraft.” The photograph of the aircraft appears to have been taken at dusk, with two crew members also visible in the frame.

Andreas stated that the aircraft first looked like a simple J-15S. Both the J-15S and the J-15D are twin-seater jets based on the carrier-capable J-15 Flying Shark of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). However, the J-15S has a simple blade antenna, as opposed to an unusual and distinctive antenna on the spine of the J-15D behind the canopy (as seen below and pointed out by Andreas in his post).

EurAsian Times could not independently verify if the aircraft has indeed entered serial production.


Nevertheless, the photo surfaced months after the state-owned broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), aired a clip in March 2024, showing two pods installed on what was believed to be a J-15D. At that time, experts said these were the same pods used on the J-16D, an Electronic Warfare (EW) variant of the J-16.

Although the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) typically keeps Chinese technical enhancements under wraps, it does not shy away from occasionally showing off its advanced military platforms, as it did with the J-15D two years ago.

In July 2022, for instance, as the Shandong aircraft carrier wrapped up its first scheduled maintenance and refurbishment at the Dalian shipyard, a shipborne J-15D with electronic countermeasure (ECM) pods on its wings was spotted on the carrier’s deck.

China’s Carrier-Borne EW Jet Is In The Works

The J-15D is an EW (Electronic Warfare) variant of the J-15, which is currently the only carrier-capable jet in the Chinese inventory. Beijing has developed a host of variants of this aircraft, some of which are still under development. Military watchers have said that the aircraft is inspired by the US Navy’s E/A-18G Growler, which is a specialized EW variant of the F-18 Hornet and is operational on all 11 carriers in the US Navy.

The development of a carrier-capable EW aircraft also underscores the growing significance of Electronic Warfare in modern combat. A Chinese military expert who did not want to be named told the EurAsian Times, “All advanced militaries in the world are expanding EW capabilities, and China is no exception. They have made EW variants out of existing platforms like the J-10 and J-16.”

Earlier this year, a mock-up of the J-15, predicted to be a J-15D, was also seen on the aircraft carrier Liaoning along with a J-35, another carrier-capable aircraft being developed by China. Netizens and PLA watchers wondered if the aircraft had been placed on the carrier for testing of the J-15’s EW variant. However, there was no official word from the Chinese authorities.

Dummy Fighters

Although we have limited details about the J-15D, it has been widely noted that the aircraft would be similar to the extensively deployed J-16D. The J-15D is expected to have its infrared search and track sensor and internal gun removed and EW pods installed under its wings.

Also, while the initial pair of J-15D prototypes were outfitted for STOBAR (Short take-off, barrier-arrested recovery) functions instead of CATOBAR (Catapult-Assist Take-off But Arrested Recovery) ones, the aircraft is expected to ultimately be refined for deployment on the Fujian and other successor carriers. China has already conducted the maiden trials of Fujian, and a fourth carrier is reportedly in the concept phase.

On being probed by EurAsian Times, Andreas said, “Just in short … indeed, possibility 1 is my thought. However, it is not proof, but only a hint. And 2.: Well, the J-15D is more or less the naval variant of the PLAAF J-16D, which is already in service but based on the J-15 airframe. As such, it is carrier-capable but features the same stand-off jammer pods on the wing-tips, most likely a similar different radar and all the other necessary EW systems.”

“The question remains: Will it be catapult-capable like the latest J-15B (not yet in service), which is planned and under development for the Fujian, or will there later be a dedicated catapult-capable variant?”

The J-15D is seen with two electronic warfare (EW) pods on the wingtips. Source: CCTV/X (formerly Twitter).

It is too early for anybody to comprehend whether the J-15D has entered serial production, as details about the aircraft remain scant. However, the fighter jet would eventually fly from Chinese carriers alongside other combat jets and perform an array of missions that go over and beyond the J-15S mission set.

For now, the PLAN is making concerted efforts to bolster its maritime capabilities, and EW jets operating from aircraft carriers are a significant part of that effort.