Flying high-performance fighter jets is a skill that requires physical and mental readiness and requires a lot of practice, but every flight hour can cost hundreds of millions of rupiah for fuel and maintenance.
That is why the air force uses the Lead-In Fighter Trainers (LIFT) which are lighter and easier to handle to give pilots the chance to accumulate real-life experience with supersonic aircraft, air combat maneuvers and gun launches before they take the fighter jet's steering lever to perform -high.
According to Sebastian Roblin in the article on National Interest, advanced trainer jets such as the South Korean-made T-50 Golden Eagle are quite capable of handling basic combat tasks from high-intensity conflict but the problem is that the operating costs are half to one-third of the price of new combat aircraft.
For example, Philippine FA-50 combat trainers and Nigerian Alpha Jet have played a leading role in fighting a brutal uprising in 2017, even though the two were involved in a tragic battle incident.
The US Air Force is looking to buy 350 new LIFT jets after the TX competition and is evaluating several designs at a cost of between USD 30-40 million per aircraft unit. However, China has gradually placed LIFT in services, at a cost of only US $ 10-15 million, which has attracted interest from countries in Africa and Latin America.
Built by Hongdu in Nanchang, China, the L-15 Falcon design is a marriage between the Super Hornet and the very famous F-16. With 2 Ukrainian-made AL-222 turbofan engines, Falcon provides trainers and backup instructors when one engine fails, while the multi-function display is displayed in the 'glass cockpit' and the hands-on-throttle-and-stick control provides trainees with the opportunity to works with types of instruments that are typical for fourth-generation fighter jets.
The edge on the front of the L-15 Falcon wing has been extended and the G-load tolerance is quite high, at 8.5 which allows it to maneuver tight and reach high attack angles up to 30 degrees above the aircraft vector.
Fly-by-wire quadruple-redundant control on three axes allows precise maneuverability. These characteristics are used to prepare pilots for the family of highly super maneuver dual-engine Flanker fighter jets operated by the Chinese Air Force and Navy.
The first L-15 prototype flew in March 2006 and entered a limited number of services in 2013 as a subsonic Advanced Jet Trainer designated as JL-10. This base model has six hardpoints for carrying bombs, rockets, and short-range air-to-air missiles, but has no radar to target long-range ammunition.
However, Hongdu then showed off the supersonic L-15B variant with an afterburning turbofans engine, enabling it to reach speeds of up to 1.4 Mach.
The Hongdu L-15B Falcon also has an extended nose to accommodate the PESA radar which has a detection range of more than 100 km that can scan all types of targets both air and surface. Radar Warning Receiver added to the L-15's tail gives it an opportunity to avoid missile attacks, while the IFF antenna can help avoid incidents of misdirected.
The L-15B also has a payload capacity which is increased to nearly 4 tons of weapons loaded on nine hardpoints: six under the wing, one belly pole and two on the wingtip. Instructor seats can even be used by Weapons Systems Officers to manage guided weapons.
One photo shows the L-15 carrying a 23 mm cannon on a pod under the abdomen, PL-5E heat-seeking air-to-air missile with equal AA-2 and Sidewinder range, LT-2 laser-guided bomb, and LS-guided bomb. 6 GPS with folding wings that allow it to slide to the target up to 60 km away. It was reported, that the L-15 Falcon could be armed with more modern missiles such as PL-10 melee missiles and BVR PL-12 missiles (100 km) including other air-to-ground munitions.
The L-15B can even carry a pod jammer to serve as a military jet at a low price. In theory, this can fly up to 16,000 m and has a range of up to 3,100 km, but in combat configuration, the effective radius is reduced to only 550 km.
Of course, the small L-15B does not prioritize speed, defense, sensors and similar carrying capacity of fourth generation multi-role fighter jets such as the F-16 or Su-35. But for developing countries that don't expect to fight major military forces, jets like Falcon can perform basic air defense and as precision ground attack missions, all can be obtained from platforms that are cheaper, easier to maintain, and can be used to train pilots.
The Zambia Air Force or Zambian Air Force has so far acquired 6 units of L-15Z lightweight fighter jets for No.15 squadron worth $ 100 million, plus simulators and various guided weapons.
In 2015, Venezuelan Admiral Carmen Mirandez announced plans to acquire between 12-24 L-15 light fighter jets to help pilot transition to the Su-30MK2 and F-16. However, due to the crisis, Caracas finally postponed the agreement.
The Uruguayan Air Force has also expressed interest in acquiring 8 L-15 units to replace the A-37B Dragonfly aircraft, one of which had an accident in 2016. Pakistan, a close ally of China, is another potential operator of the L-15B, but this will compete with plans to buy JF-17B tandem seat jets, which are the result of collaboration between Pakistan and China.
Meanwhile, to date, China is estimated to have between 130-150 L-15 in nine squadrons, most of which may be subsonic L-15A variants. In general, Chinese fighter pilots have decent flight hours but do not have training under proper combat conditions.
The market for trainer / light attack aircraft is relatively crowded with competitors such as the Yak-130 Russia, the Italian MB-346, the Chinese Subsonic K-8, the Golden Eagle South Korea T-50 or maybe the American Boeing TX.
It is too early to know whether L-15 and JL-9 will prove the success of major exports, but the sale of cheap supersonic trainers/fighters can be an interesting marker of the widespread influence of Beijing in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the next few years.
Specification of Hongdu L15 Falcon
• Crew: 2 people
• Length: 12.27 m (40,256 feet)
• Wingspan: 9.48 m (31.1 feet)
• Height: 4.81 m (15.78 feet)
• Empty weight: 4,500 kg (9,920 pounds)
• Loaded weight: 6,500 kg (14,300 pounds)
• Maximum takeoff weight: 9,500 kg (20,900 pounds)
2 x Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25 for the AJT model
2 x Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25F afterburning turbofan for LIFT models
• Maximum speed: 1.4 Mach (924.1 mph or 1,728 km / hour)
• Combustion radius: > 550 km
• Ferry coverage: 3,100 km (1,926 miles)
• Service height: 16,000 meters (52,500 feet)
• Climbing speed: > 720 km / h (with afterburning)
• Using the PESA radar