Rafale Marine vs. Chinese Carrier-borne J-15 Fighter: A Comparative Analysis
French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation confirmed that its Rafale-M (Marine) is selected for the Indian Navy’s (IN) carrier-based fighter procurement project.
This is the first international sale of the Rafale-M and the first time the IN will have a carrier-based fighter from Dassault Aviation.
With both India and China working towards a three-aircraft carrier naval force, it will be interesting to see how the IN’s Rafale-M compares with the Chinese Shenyang J-15, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s carrier-based fighter.
How does the Shenyang J-15 compare with the Rafale-M fighter?
The marine variant of the Rafale shares more than 85% of its components with the Indian Air Force (IAF) Rafale fighter. For carrier operations, the M model has a strengthened airframe, longer nose gear leg to provide a more nose-up attitude, larger tailhook between the engines, and a built-in boarding ladder.
The Rafale M is a fighter of the fourth generation that features a delta wing and twin engines.
Rafale-M is intended for India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the 45,000 ton INS Vikrant, which was commissioned last year. It operates on the short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) design.
This French bird can attain a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 at high altitudes, compared to the J-15’s claimed speed of Mach 2.4.
Rafale has a ferry range of 3,700km with 3 drop tanks, and a combat range of 1,850km on penetration mission with three tanks (5,700 L combined), two SCALP-EG and two MICA AAMs. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 24,500 kg and a service ceiling of over 15,800m.
Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s J-15 is a reverse-engineered Russiam Su-33 that Beijing acquired from Ukraine. The J-15 is the world’s heaviest carrier-based fighter in service – its 17,500kg weight compared to the Rafale-M’s 10,600kg. This extra weight reduces its range and overall combat capability.
Also called, “Flying Shark” the J-15 can fly out to 3,500km with maximum fuel load and its maximum altitude is 20,000m. It can takeoff weighing 32,500kg.
Rafale M is cleared to +9G whilst the J-15 is limited to +8.5G. Rafale is also capable of supercruise at around 9,100m.
The Rafale is fitted with two Snecma M88 engines, each capable of providing up to 50kN of dry thrust and 75kN with afterburners. The engines feature several advances, including technology to reduce radar and infrared signatures. The M88 enables the Rafale to supercruise while carrying four missiles and one drop tank.
The J-15 was powered by Russia-made Saturn AL-31 afterburning turbofans providing 122.6kN thrust with afterburner. In November 2022, the fighter appeared fitted with domestically produced WS-10 engines that provides 89.17kN thrust each dry and 135–144kN with afterburner.
Radar and Sensors
Both J-15B/D and the F3R-standard Rafale-M are equipped with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars as their primary sensor.
The J-15 adopts the J-11B’s avionics suite modified with multirole capability, including the same cockpit, and likely similar datalinks and mission computers as well.
Not much is known about J-15’s AESA radar while the F3R-standard Rafale M is equipped with Thales’ RBE2-AA. The RBE2 AA is reported to deliver a greater detection range of 200 km.
The Rafale M carries the OSF (optronique secteur frontal) electro-optical and infra-red search and track (IRST), and video imaging sensor suite in a permanent mount on the nose ahead of the canopy.
This system comprises a pair of sensors-the first is an IRST designed for BVR scan and tracking of air targets without emitting any detectable radiation, which also has a secondary capability to scan for land or maritime targets. The second is an electro-optical/IR video imaging sensor for use within around 35-40km, and which includes a laser range finding capability.
The Damocles targeting pod is also regularly carried for multirole or strike missions, which includes full IR/EO imaging and laser designation and spot track capabilities, as well as datalink relay node for transferring ISR data to tanker and AWACS assets in flight.
The J-15 received an upgrade at the end of 2021 that included enhancements to its missile pylons, an infrared search and track system, the radar and the wings. The upgrade also include a STOBAR capability to enable operation from China’s third aircraft carrier, the Fuijan.
The Rafale-M can carry up to 9.5 tons of weapons, fuel tanks and pods on 13 external hardpoints, and is capable of low-level, high-speed penetrations to evade enemy radar.
Rafale-M can be armed with Meteor-beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, Hammer air to surface smart weapon system, SCALP/Storm Shadow cruise missiles, MICA air-to-air missiles, EXOCET anti-ship missiles, classic bombs and laser-guided bombs. A 2500 rounds/min NEXTER 30M791 30 mm internal cannon is available on both single and two-seaters.
The J-15’s munitions are mounted on 12 external hardpoints with a capacity of 6,500 kg. Its primary air-to-air weapons suite adopts PL-12 BVRAAM and PL-8 SRAAM missiles. The anti-surface weapons consists of three primary weapons types. The YJ-91 anti-radiation missile, the YJ-83K anti-ship missiles and the KD-88 standoff weapon; the last two have a range in excess of 200km.
The 2021 upgrade to the J-15 include the capability to launch the PL-15 BVRAAM, China’s most advanced air-to-air missile.
J-15 is armed with a 30 mm GSh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds.