Beijing wants to develop a new carrier-borne fighter to replace its Shenyang J-15s, which have been plagued by safety and mechanical problems.

According to a report in the South China Morning Post, quoting Chinese air force lieutenant general Zhang Honghe, a “new carrier-based fighter to replace the J-15” is in development.

The report goes on to add that the type, a Chinese copy of the Sukhoi Su-33, has been involved in four crashes and suffers a range of mechanical problems. At one point, this resulted in the entire fleet being grounded four three months.

There has been persistent speculation that the developmental AVIC FC-31 will become a carrier-borne aircraft, but the aircraft’s status is unclear. AVIC has suggested that a foreign buyer is needed to move the type's development along.

The J-15 is the heaviest carrier-borne fighter in current operation, with an empty weight of 17,500kg (38,500lb), higher than the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet's 14,600kg, but considerably less than the Grumman F-14, whose empty weight was 19,800kg.

China has one operational carrier, the Liaoning. Developed from a former Soviet Kuznetsov-class hulk, the Varyag. It recently launched an indigenously built sister ship, designated Type 001A. Both are short take-off but arrested (STOBAR) carriers, which limits the types of aircraft they can carry and their payloads.

In June, an image emerged on Chinese social media, apparently originating from a meeting of senior shipbuilding officials, of a new carrier design with three catapults. This fuelled long running expectations that Beijing is planning a more capable catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) vessel, similar to those operated by the US Navy.