China's Hongdu Aviation Industry plans to accelerate the development of its L-15 advanced jet trainer in the coming months, with company officials saying that they expect the air force to place an order for the type shortly.

The company has three prototypes of the twin-seat aircraft, with the third making its first flight in May. The final configuration of the aircraft with the Ivchenko-Progress AL-222K-25F engine is expected to be ready in 2010, while another version with the same engine but incorporating an afterburner is expected to be primed in 2011.

"The L-15 is in the final stages of getting ready to be in service with the air force. We expect an order for the aircraft very soon," says Zhang Hong, the chief designer of the L-15 with Hongdu. He was unable to say how big the initial order will be, although industry sources say that the air force could buy around 20 aircraft.

The type was initially competing with the Guizhou Aircraft Industry L-9, which had its first flight in 2003. However, after the consolidation of China's aerospace industry earlier this year, industry sources speculate that this aircraft is on hold as Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the parent company of both Hongdu and Guizhou, is keen to pursue only one advanced jet trainer programme.

As a result, Hongdu is actively pursuing variants of the L-15. Design work has begun on a single-seat version of the aircraft, although Zhang says that there are no immediate plans to develop one. A naval version is also possible but not on the cards yet, he adds. "The L-15's platform can be adapted for several roles and we are looking at pursuing several of these," he says.

One that is definitely on the cards is a light-attack variant. Hongdu is looking at fitting weapons on to the L-15 and offering this version to both the air force and for export. Representatives from the air forces of several African countries, including Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, were at media briefings at Airshow China and held talks with their Chinese counterparts.

"The international market is something we must look at," says He Wei, director-general of the international business department at Aviation Industry Corporation of China's defence division. "Our main priority is to develop aircraft for our country. We have several military aircraft that can interest other countries and we want to pursue this business."

Other aircraft that China hopes to export include fighters such as the Chengdu Aircraft Industry J-10 and Chengdu/PAC JF-17. The JF-17 was jointly developed with Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and is in service with both countries. Industry sources say that these aircraft would appeal to countries that may not be able allowed to buy or afford US, European or Russian fighters.

Source: Flight International