The AIM-120 medium-range air-to-air missiles installed by the US Air Force have been the benchmark for the development of modern air-to-air weapons for many years. On September 23, 2015, the US "Popular Science" monthly website reported that the PL-15 air-to-air missile was developed by China's 607 (Air-to-Air Missile Research Institute), which provided China with a radar-guided range of about 100 kilometers. Compared with the PL-12, PL-15 radar not only has active detection range increase, but also has anti-interference data link, and there is also a double-pulse solid rocket motor to improve its range.
The AIM-120 is the first active radar-guided line-of-sight air-to-air missile currently in service in the United States. It is also an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile developed by the United States. It has a flight speed of Mach 4 per hour and a range of 110. Kilometers. From the perspective of range, AIM-120 is indeed much weaker than China PL-15. However, the US media said that the US Air Force is worried about the PL-15, not the one that was carried in the J-20 built-in bomb bay and appeared at the 12th Zhuhai Air Show. For long-range air-to-air missiles, the US military believes that China's PL-15 is at best comparable to the latest US military AIM-120D.
In early 2017, photos of an unknown rocket carried by a Chinese J-11B fighter jet raised questions about whether Beijing is developing a new super-long-range air-to-air missile. Speaking to Sputnik, Russian military expert Vasily Kashin shed some light on China's mysterious missile system. The photos of an unusually large "air-to-air" rocket prompted rumors over the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) adopting a new long-range missile system.
According to Russian military expert Vasily Kashin, the missile in question could have been the so-called PL-15 air-to-air missile. In September 2015, Pentagon officials raised the alarm over China's most advanced air-to-air missile, referred to as the PL-15. It was reported that the new weapon boasted a powerful rocket motor that could potentially give it an advantage over America's main air-to-air missile AIM-120 in terms of firing range.
In his 2015 interview with Flight Global magazine Head of the Air Force's Air Combat Command Gen. Herbert Carlisle stressed that he regarded outmatching the Chinese PL-15 air-to-air missile as "exceedingly high priority" for the US. "The PL-15 and the range of that missile, we've got to be able to out-stick that missile," Carlisle underscored.
Speaking to Sputnik 27 J\Kanuary 2017, Kashin noted that the PL-15 test images have been repeatedly circulated on the Internet, adding that its mockup was also demonstrated at China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai. Being more than six meters long the new rocket is believed to be a potential replacement for China's current main air-to-air weapon PL-12, an active radar-guided beyond-visual-range missile.
瓦西里·卡申在接受Sputnik 27 J\Kanuary 2017年采访时指出，PL-15测试图像已在互联网上反复流传，并补充说其模型还在珠海中国国际航空航天展览会上进行了展示。这种新型导弹超过六米长，被认为是中国目前主要空对空武器PL-12的潜在替代品，PL-12是一种主动雷达制导的超视距导弹。
However, while the PL-12 has a range of approximately 100 kilometers, the P-15 is reportedly capable of destroying targets at a distance of 300km or even 400km, Kashin pointed out. The Russian military expert remarked that the PL-12 missile was developed by the People's Republic of China in the late 1990s — early 2000s with the assistance of Russia's manufactures and extensive use of Russian components including an active radar homing head. However, it is not clear whether or not Russian specialists were engaged in further refinement of long-range missiles in China.
For its part, Russia's Air Force currently uses the R-77 (NATO code name: AA-12 Adder) medium range, active radar homing air-to-air missile system with a firing range of 110km.
Kashin elaborated that the air-to-air missiles are primarily used against early warning aircraft, electronic warfare and intelligence aircraft as well as large military transport planes and bombers. However, the probability of air-to-air missile hitting a tactical fighter at a large distance is rather low, he remarked. Still, it would be a great success for the Chinese defense industry if it launches mass production of the PL-15-like weapons, the Russian military expert underscored, adding that in that case the Pentagon will obviously have reasons for concern.
In January 2017 the China Daily reported that the photo of a J-11B fighter jet armed with an unknown rocket almost one-fourth of the length of the 22-meter-long plane was published on the People's Liberation Army website. According to the media outlet, the picture was taken during the PLAAF military drills in northwestern China in November 2016. In an interview with the newspaper, military expert Fu Qianshao suggested that China was developing an advanced long-range missile air-to-air missile capable of hitting targets at a distance of up to 400km. "Successful development of this potentially new missile would be a major breakthrough in the [Chinese] Air Force's weapons upgrade," the expert said.
PL-15/Pili-15 Air-to-Air Missile
The Pili-15 was developed by the China Air-to-Air Missile Research Institute. Its goal is to replace China's active radar-guided Pili-12, a medium-range air-to-air missile, which has a maximum range of close to 100km. Compared with the Pili-12, the Pili-15's active radar detection range has been significantly increased, and it also has an anti-jamming data link, which is of great significance for attacking long-range targets. The greater the active radar detection range, the longer the airborne radar guidance time. The less; the stronger the anti-jamming ability, the more difficult it is for the target to get rid of the missile attack.
The biggest feature of the Pili-15 is that it uses a dual-pulse solid rocket motor to extend its range instead of the ramjet used by the European "Meteor". The oxidant of the ramjet does not need to be carried by itself, so it is naturally much lighter than the rocket power and has a longer working time. However, in the thin air at high altitude, the efficiency is much lower than that of the rocket engine. The dual-pulse solid rocket engine is a kind of fuel charge divided into several sections with a flame-retardant heat insulation layer in the same combustion chamber. Each section of the charge has an independent ignition system. The control system determines the ignition time of each section of the charge to achieve The energy management mechanism is introduced to the working process of the engine to meet the technical requirements of the overall optimal trajectory of the rocket, and achieve the optimal allocation plan of the missile's longest range, no escape zone and terminal maneuverability.
In terms of guidance technology, the Pili-15 uses inertial guidance and data link for interrupt guidance. The active radar system is used in the first stage, and the anti-radiation warhead can also be used to track the target through the tracking and early warning aircraft radar. Among them, the data link is an advanced two-way data link. The so-called two-way data link means that in addition to the missile receiving information from fighters and early warning aircraft, it also has the ability to transmit video or images obtained by missile sensors back to fighters and early warning aircraft, missiles and aircraft. The communication between them is two-way. The introduction of the data link allows the Pili-15 to launch an attack with the support of the entire air combat system. For example, after the Pili-15 is launched, the nearby AWACS can continuously track the target, and the updated data will be sent to the Pili-15 periodically through the data link. The missile informs the target of changes in direction and speed. Of course, the Pili-15 also uses a high-precision anti-jamming active radar seeker, which allows it to autonomously launch the deadliest blow at the maximum range, while the target cannot escape.
Among the five types of advanced air-to-air missiles currently in service in China, the performance of the Pili-15 is the most outstanding. Currently, the performance of the J-11BS/H, J-15, J-16, J-10B/C and J-20 is the most outstanding. All fourth and fifth generation fighters can be carried. But the biggest threat to the US military is of course the J-20 carrying the Pili-15. Long-range air-to-air missiles pose a considerable threat to large-scale aerial targets such as early warning aircraft. Due to technical limitations, the maximum monitoring distance of early warning aircraft is about 400 to 500 kilometers, only 300 kilometers for fighter-type targets, and only 120 kilometers for stealth fighters. This means that the stealth fighter can attack the AWACS at a very close range. If the maximum range of the Pili-15 is 200 kilometers, then when the AWACS discovers the incoming Pili-15 air-to-air missile, it needs to fly at least about 100 kilometers. The distance to escape to safe airspace is something that an early warning aircraft cannot do.
The J-11B fighter jet has become the latest user of China's self-developed world-class air-to-air missile that was feared by senior US military officers, revealed China's national broadcaster on 04 December 2019. A photo appeared on a China Central Television (CCTV) program showed a J-11B under the People's Liberation Army Air Force carrying a large missile under its wing. The J-20 stealth fighter jet carried the same type of missile and made public display at the Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province, in November 2018, CCTV reported.
This was the first time a J-11B was spotted carrying this type of missile, the report said. "Judging from the shape and aerodynamic design plus the J-20 reference, the missile is very likely to be the PL-15 air-to-air missile," Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst, told the Global Times. Wei compared the PL-15 with the US' latest AIM-120 missile, as both have very long effective range that would allow the launch platform to become an airborne sniper, enabling an aircraft to hunt hostile fighters, early warning aircraft and aerial tankers from beyond visual range. the National Interest said the PL-15's effective range could be much higher than the AIM-120's 180 kilometers, but that could be an exaggeration, according to Wei. The PL-15 is also equipped with an active electronically scanned array radar, which makes evasion very difficult, Bloomberg reported.
Public information shows that the loading of the J-20 with the Pili-15 missile has been confirmed, and it is reported that the J-20 fighter has been tested with the Pili-15. The the wide belly magazine of the J-20 can mount 4 Pili-15 side by side, which means it can attack 2 to 4 enemy long-range targets at the same time. This means that the J-20 can be attacked in one sortie. Kill multiple long-range air targets at the same time. According to the current tactics of the PLA Air Force, our army will use the J-20 to attack key air nodes in the US air combat system, such as B-1B and B-2A strategic bombers, E-8, E-2D and E-3C airborne early warning aircraft, RC -135 large electronic reconnaissance aircraft, KC-135 and KC-46 aerial tankers, C-5A and C-17 strategic transport aircraft and other combat power multipliers. According to public image data, the main air combat weapon configuration of the J-20 is to mount the Pili-15 and Pili-10E. These two types of missiles give the J-20 the ability to deal with long-range and short-range targets at the same time.
Dubbed by Chinese military observers as the "aerial trident," the J-20, J-16 and J-10C fighter jets, conducted air defense penetration drills in June 2018, with all of them reportedly carrying the PL-15 missiles. Now the J-11B could join the PL-15 club.In the future, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force will form an air combat weapon and equipment system for short-range, medium-range, long-range, and ultra-long-range air-to-air missiles represented by the Pili-10A, Pili-12B, Pili-15, and Pili-21. It is believed that with the support of the new technology of the Air Force combat data link that realizes the seamless transmission of target information, the advanced fighter jets of the People's Liberation Army Air Force will inevitably build China's "Eagle Wall."
On 29 September 2021, the Zhuhai Air Show opened, and the Pili-15E long-range air-to-air missile was exposed at the air show for the first time. Judging from the disclosed data, this missile has a long range and strong performance. It was claimed to be the most advanced long-range air-to-air missile on the international market at present, and its performance crushes Europe's most advanced meteor missile. From the data of the Pili-15E, it can be inferred that the performance of the Pili-15 missile will only be more advanced. The combination of the Pili-15 missile and the J-20 stealth fighter is said to be "perfect".
The Pili-15E first appeared on the Zhuhai aircraft carrier, and various air-to-air missiles, such as the Pili-10E and SD-10, were all next to the FC-31 model. Some parameters of the Pili-15 air-to-air missile were disclosed on the exhibition board: the missile level is 3996mm, the missile diameter is 203mm, the weight of the missile does not exceed 210 kg, and its maximum range can reach 145 kilometers. Compared with the Russian-made R-27ER long-range air-to-air missile, the missile has a length of 4.7 meters, a maximum diameter of 0.35 meters, a weight of about 350 kg, and a maximum range of only about 75 kilometers. The data of the Pili-15E exceeds that of the R-27ER missile. In order to ensure that the target can be accurately locked at a long distance, the Pili-15E missile uses a very complex guidance method, including inertial navigation/Beidou guidance + two-way data link + missile active radar. Because of the use of multiple guidance methods, the PL-15E missile can maintain strike accuracy at a maximum range of 145 kilometers.
The PL-15E missile is currently one of the most advanced air-to-air missiles in the international market, and may even surpass the famous European Meteor air-to-air missile in the international market. The Meteor missile uses a ramjet. Under ideal launch conditions at an altitude of 15,000 meters, the maximum range can reach 135 kilometers. However, when the Meteor is launched, the altitude requirements are very high, and in order to take into account the range, the maximum flight speed of the missile can only reach about 2.95 Mach. This speed is still low. If you encounter an aircraft with supersonic flight performance, its The effective distance that can be used will be greatly shortened. The PL-15E missile is an export version. If it is a PL-15 missile used by the military itself, its maximum range may reach 200 kilometers.
The F-20 fighter has excellent stealth performance. The fighter will be a perfect combination with the Pili-15 missile. The J-20 stealth fighter can greatly shorten the distance found by the enemy. The personal-use version of the Pili-15 missile may have a range of more than 145 kilometers. That is to say, the J-20 fighter can detect long-range air-to-air missiles before the enemy fighters find it. Leaving the battlefield, the enemy has no chance to fight back. If the J-20 fighter is equipped with the Pili-15 missile to attack enemy fighters such as early warning aircraft and tankers, the J-20 fighter will become the best assassin. Before the opening of the Zhuhai Aviation Show, Air Force spokesperson Shen Jinke said that the Chinese Air Force has entered the era of strategic air force, which is attributed to the F-20 fighter.
The Zhuhai Air Show has become a platform for Chinese military enterprises to display advanced weapons and equipment, and many advanced weapon systems are displayed at the air show. As a long-range air-to-air missile with advanced performance in all aspects, the Pili-15E will inevitably attract the attention of many international customers. Pakistan’s Xiaolong fighter may already be equipped with Pili-15E missiles, which will have a great advantage in the face of Indian fighters.