Russian military experts have downplayed any significant competition from the J-15 in the global arms market, with Col. Igor Korotchenko of the Defense Ministry stating in early June 2010, "The Chinese J-15 is unlikely to achieve the same performance characteristics of the Russian Su-33 carrier-based fighter, and I do not rule out the possibility that China could return to negotiations with Russia on the purchase of a substantial batch of Su-33s." China has actively sought to purchase Su-33s from Russia on numerous occasions—an unsuccessful offer was made as late as March 2009—but negotiations collapsed in 2006 after it was discovered that China had developed a modified version of the Sukhoi Su-27SK designated the Shenyang J-11B, in violation of intellectual property agreements.
The first J-15 prototype is believed to have performed its maiden flight on August 31, 2009, powered by Russian-supplied AL-31 turbofan engines. Video and still images of the flight were released in July 2010, showing the same basic airframe design as the Su-33. In July 2011, it was reported FWS-10H turbofan engine was chosen for J-15 fighter, which has takeoff thrust increased to 12,800 kg, compared to the FWS-10 turbofan's 12,500 kg. Other improvements were also made to make it better suited to carrier-based fighter's requirement. On May 6, 2010, the aircraft conducted its first takeoff from a simulated ski-jump.
The reliance on ski-jump launches and the lack of Chinese carrier based refueling capabilities are believed to greatly reduce the effective range of the J-15.
The J-15 is reported to use different avionics and systems than the Su-33, and uses Chinese-developed technologies, and features various upgrades such as AESA radar produced by the 607th Institute (which is also installed aboard the Shenyang J-16), composite and radar absorbent material, MAWS, improved IRST, and new electronics. An article in the China Signpost believes the J-15 "likely exceeds or matches the aerodynamic capabilities of virtually all fighter aircraft currently operated by regional militaries, with the exception of the U.S. F-22 Raptor", alleging that the J-15 likely possesses a 10% superior thrust-to-weight ratio and a 25% lower wing loading than the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet However, one of the authors of that same article described the J-15 in another as no game changer; Hu Siyuan of the National Defense University PLA China has said that "the current weak point of the J-15 is its Russia-made Al-31 engines which are less powerful than that of the American F-35 fighter".
A twin seat variant made its maiden flight on November 4, 2012. The general designer of J-15 is Mr. Sun Cong.
The J-15's chief designer, Sun Cong of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, has said that the J-15 could match the F/A-18 in bomb load, combat radius and mobility. However, in a similar statement, he said more work was required in its electronics and combat systems. He also indicated the lack of mature domestically produced engines as a current weak spot.
Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo stated that the aircraft's air combat capabilities were better than that of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. However, he also stated that its ability to attack land and sea targets was slightly inferior to the F/A-18E/F. It is also stated that its electronic equipment meets the standards of those on a fifth generation fighter.