In 1992, China ordered its first batch of Russian built Sukhoi/KnAAPO Su-27SK Flanker B fighters, an export variant of the first mass-produced Soviet Flanker model. Further batches were purchased, including the dual seat Su-27UBK combat trainer and by the late 1990s, China had negotiated a deal to partly manufacture and assemble 200 examples of the Shenyang J-11A. Concurrently, multiple regiments of the dual seat Su-30MKK were procured, an aircraft best compared with early blocks of the US F-15E Strike Eagle, providing a robust all-weather strike capability with a wide range of guided weapons, including anti-radiation missiles to defeat opposing air defence radars, and a range of standoff missiles and smart bombs with TV command link, imaging optical and laser guidance.
PLANAF units have also received variants of the Su-30MK, specifically the Su-30MK2, which is equipped with the additional capability to carry Russian anti-ship cruise missiles. PLAN Flankers supplement a growing force of domestically built Xian JH-7 Flying Leopard/Flounder maritime strike fighters, now also being deployed with PLAAF units.
By the middle of the last decade, cracks had begun to appear in the relationship between Shenyang and KnAAPO. China wanted the second half of the domestic J-11A build to be produced in a more advanced configuration, something which the Russians refused to do. Shenyang had by then completed the reverse engineering of the Su-27SK airframe, and disclosed that prototypes of the fully Chinese built J-11B existed. While the Russians have alleged that the Chinese built J-11B is an unauthorised ‘clone’ of the Su-27SK, it’s actually quite different in key systems and avionics.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The PLAN also negotiated with KnAAPO for the supply of up to 50 navalised folding wing Su-27K/Su-33 Flanker D shipboard fighters, intended for operation off the Varyag. This order, which would have brought Chinese Flanker numbers planned and budgeted for well beyond the 500 aircraft mark, stalled due to Russian concerns over reverse engineering (a recent report by Kanwa claims that the PLAN procured a prototype Su-27K previously abandoned at a Ukrainian airfield, and used it to reverse engineer the J-15 Flying Shark shipboard fighter).