Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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New Chinese PL-15 Missile is Designed to Destroy US Air Force Aerial Tankers

Long-range killer

(Photo : PLAAF) J-11BS armed with PL-15 LRAAMs.

China is testing its new PL-15 long-range air-to-air missile (LRAAM) designed to shoot down defenseless U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy aerial tankers and airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C) from as far away as 300 kilometers.

PL-15 was successfully fired for the first time from a fighter jet (a Shenyang J-16) in November 2016, according to Chinese state-run media. Chinese pundits speculate the PL-15 is a new class of LRAAM on account of its large size, and is the only type in this class so far.

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PL-15 is outfitted with a sophisticated radar seeker and a powerful dual pulse rocket motor, a combination that makes this LRAAM a serious threat to high-value aerial targets such as tankers and AEW&C planes deep behind enemy lines.

The rocket motor allows the PL-15 to fly a semi-ballistic trajectory to achieve extra long range. Chinese media said the PL-15 can reach out to over 300 km at a speed greater than Mach 4 (4,900 km/h). The missile's cruising altitude is about 30 km.

Its advanced guidance system consists of a two-way datalink and a new active/passive dual mode AESA seeker with enhanced ECCM (electronic counter-countermeasures) capability.

Before launch, PL-15 must obtain the target information via datalink from an AEW&C plane; a land-based long-range radar system or a satellite. After the initial ascent stage, the missile uses Beidou / GPS+INS+datalink guidance during mid-course cruising.

At the terminal diving stage and in combination with the AESA seeker, the missile may also use an IIR (imaging infrared) seeker to increase its kill probability despite severe jamming.

The missile's length (5.8 meters) means it can't be carried internally by the Chengdu J-20 "stealth" fighter. PL-15, however, can be carried externally by Generation 3.5 jets such as the Shenyang J-11 air superiority fighter and the Shenyang J-16 multi-role fighter.

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