Pakistan in Talks to Purchase a Third Chinese ‘4+ Generation’ Fighter Class: What Can L-15 Jets Contribute?

China’s Hongdu Aircraft Company has confirmed that the Pakistan Defence Ministry’s entry into talks for the acquisition of an unknown number of L-15 twin engine lightweight fighter aircraft, which are reportedly intended to replace older Chinese supplied J-7PG fighters in the Pakistan Air Force. The report was unexpected since Pakistan already recently began acquisitions of two other classes of Chinese lightweight fighter the very light JF-17 Block 3 and the larger but still lightweight J-10C, both of which are considered ‘4+ generation’ aircraft which integrate fifth generation level avionics, sensors and weaponry. Although coming from a similar weight range to the JF-17, however, the L-15 has a number of characteristics which could make it optimal for Pakistani requirements despite the additional costs which diversification of the fleet will bring. The L-15 was initially designed primarily as a trainer, and as such its baseline variants are cheaper than those of the JF-17 Block 3. The aircraft is also notably configured with twin engines which is considered vital for close air support aircraft, as it provided engine redundancy and thus the ability to return to base if a single engine is destroyed by surface to air threats.

L-15s lack active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars like the latest JF-17 and J-10 models Pakistan fields, which reduces costs significantly. Their use of passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radars, however, rather than older mechanically scanned radars, still provides a significant situational awareness advantage over all other fighter classes in Pakistani service including the fleet’s ageing American supplied F-16s. With multi-mode targeting pods and electronic jammers the aircraft can deploy a range of precision guided air to surface weapons which makes them effective attack aircraft, as well as potentially optimal conversion trainers to support further expansion of the J-10C fleet. The L-15 was notably the first non-Western fighter class to break into the Arab Gulf’s fighter market with a sale to the United Arab Emirates in 2021, and has continued to draw considerable interest internationally. China’s ability to deliver full strength units within months of orders being placed has been among the key attractions of the L-15 as it was for the JF-17 and J-10, where fighters purchased from other sources particularly in the West have taken considerably longer.