China's J-15 carrier borne jets have completed a set of night-time buddy refueling that will increase their range and operational flexibility by a fair margin.
Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy said these operations involving J-15s were held at night for the first time. “Crew members have accomplished night-time buddy refueling exercises with multiple batches of aircraft when there was no previous experience to refer to,” Zhang Ye, a PLA Navy aircraft carrier aviation officer, told on CCTV.
“Buddy refueling” is in-flight refueling from one combat jet to another using a specialized refueling pod.
“Buddy refueling can boost an aircraft carrier's firepower by allowing fighter jets to carry more weapons and less fuel when taking off. China's two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, use jump-rack decks rather than catapults, which has limited the maximum payload of aircraft at takeoff,” Chinese experts were quoted as saying by Global Times today.
Usually aerial refueling features tanker planes as the feeding aircraft, but they are too large for an aircraft carrier. So some of the fighters are reconfigured to carry more fuel and fewer weapons to act as small tankers.
Russia’s Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies reported in January 2015 that China had built a refueling pod for the J-15 fighters. Beijing is said to have copied the design from Russian UPAZ-1A aerial refueling pod. Chinese media had stated that the pod is larger and heavier than the Mk 32 pod used by Western military. It reportedly takes 5.3 minutes to complete refueling 9.5 ton J-15 fighter aircraft while an Mk 32 takes 8.2 minutes.