While China has built up a very respectable air force over the years, some areas have clearly been left out, for varying reasons. Crew training is one such area. For many years now, Chinese pilots have been trained on the same aircraft as their instructors. Most of the aircraft used, even if they are new, are based on decades-old concepts. The Nanchang CJ-6 entered service in the 1960s, the JJ-5 (MiG-15) and JJ-6 (MiG-19) in the 1960s and 1970s, and the JJ-7. So, even though new aircraft were brought into service, the crews of the active regiments had to train on outdated models. It took time for the Chinese authorities to realize the problem. The arrival of new fighter-bombers in the 1980s and especially the 1990s revealed the full extent of the problem: after training, it was no longer possible to switch from the JJ-6 to the Sukhoi Su-27SK or the Xian JH-7. The development of new Chinese models, such as the J-10, finished convincing the authorities.

Guizhou JL-9

By the mid-1990s, the most widely used advanced trainer, or at least the most modern, was the Guizhou JJ-7. It was a modified J-7 (a model derived from the MiG-21F-13, and progressively improved), which appeared in 1979 and was produced on a large scale from 1986 onwards: it seems that, in designing it, the Chinese were inspired by the MiG-21U (NATO code: Mongol-A). Guizhou therefore had some experience in this field: the Chinese authorities naturally turned to this company to launch the design of a new advanced training aircraft, to replace the JJ-6 and JJ-7 in service. It was also intended to facilitate the transition to the new aircraft then entering service or planned, such as the J-10 or J-11. Guizhou faced another manufacturer, Hongdu, who developed a deliberately modern aircraft, the L-15, in cooperation with Yakovlev. Guizhou chose a completely different approach. This was seen at the official presentation of the Guizhou JL-9 at the Airshow China in 2006.

The JL-9, also called Shanying (Plateau Eagle or Mountain Eagle) is very clearly extrapolated from the JJ-7, and also from the J-7E. The astonishing resemblance between these aircraft is based on the fact that a large part of the structure of the JL-9 has been borrowed from them. Thus, the JL-9 has the double delta wing of the J-7E, and the same engine. It also has the vertical stabilizer, the landing gear and most of the fuselage of the JJ-7. Only the front part was designed ex nihilo. It should be noted that, unlike the MiG-21U, the JJ-7 and JL-9 have not one but two belly keels. The cockpit accommodates a pilot and an instructor, seated in tandem, with the instructor in the rear and in a higher position than his student. The canopy is built in one piece, but has an independent opening for each crew member, and a fixed part at the front. It opens by tilting to the right.

Two semi-circular air inlets, starting below the cockpit, supply air to the engine, and additional removable air inlets are located on the sides of the JL-9. The structure of the JL-9 is indicated to resist a load of + 8 G to – 3 G. Chinese engineers have planned to install an in-flight refueling boom at the front of the fuselage. The fuselage ends in a point at the front, housing a fire control radar system: the aircraft planned for export are to be fitted with an Italian FIAR Grifo S-7 system, the others with a Chinese-made system. The avionics also include an XPS-2 head-up display (HUD), multifunction displays, two TYD-6 zero-zero ejection seats and a databus to MIL-STD-1153B standard. The armament is still not well known, but it is assumed that the JL-9 will be able to carry PL-8 air-to-air missiles (the Israeli-designed Rafael Python-3 missile, produced under license).

Guizhou JL-9

At present, the status of the JL-9 programme is uncertain. It seems that 10 prototypes and pre-production aircraft have been produced. Two devices were clearly identified: they are coded 421 and 422 (red numbers) and correspond to the first and the second prototype. A third, uncoded, was presented in flight at the China Airshow in 2006. It is also known that the JL-9 was included by the PLAAF, in 2005, in its 11th five-year acquisition program. But so far, it seems that the more modern Hongdu L-15 is the favorite. The JL-9, which shares many of the same features as many of the aircraft already in service, as well as being less expensive to buy and operate, could benefit from these advantages at a time of steadily increasing Chinese military spending. In addition, the JL-9 could have some export success. It is designated FTC-2000 for these markets.

Recently, however, it was confirmed that a Chinese naval training unit, based in Shanhaiguan, is fielding JL-9s. They are registered 81x7x. There is also an upgraded version, designated JL-9G, which opens the way for a navalization program.

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