China’s Sukhoi Submission
Image Credit: Oleg Belyakov

China’s Sukhoi Submission


China is executing an ambitious defense modernization plan designed to make the country militarily self-sufficient by around the 2020s. So with a range of domestic fighter aircraft development programs in train – including the stealthy J-20 – it seems that buying new fighter jets from Russia probably wasn’t part of that plan.

Nonetheless, the Chinese have asked Russia to sell them the new Sukhoi Su-35 “Super Flanker” fighter aircraft, according to Alexander Fomin, deputy head of Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. Cited by the Russian media, Fomin said that Beijing had filed a request for the S-35s – as well as S-400 air defense systems – back in 2011.

China isn’t transparent about defense procurement, so nobody knows for sure whether buying the Su-35 has always been part of its strategy, or whether it’s an admission of failure. But it’s been a decade since China has ordered any foreign jets – Russian Sukhoi Su-27s and Su-30s – for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), leading many aviation analysts to conclude that the Chinese would only return to the international market if they had no choice.

Now, with both India and Japan ordering advanced new fighter aircraft, the PLAAF may have determined that it needs the new Russian jets as a stopgap while the Chinese aerospace industry continues to work through some critical technology challenges, notably aircraft engines and radar systems. By ordering the Su-35, China’s defense planners would essentially be demonstrating that they aren’t willing to gamble on the J-20 and the other advanced planes that the Chinese defense industry is working on.

Russia’s motivation is also complex. The Su-35 is a new aircraft that hasn’t yet entered active service with the Russian Air Force, and the Russians are reluctant to sell it to the Chinese because of their track record of reverse-engineering earlier model Sukhois and then churning out copies. Equally, the Russians are aware that the day is fast approaching when China will no longer need to import Russian defense technology, and they may be eyeing the Su-35 sale as a last hurrah in the Chinese marketplace.

If China really is interested in ordering the Su-35, Moscow will certainly be wary of Beijing’s rationale. It won’t want to sell the Chinese only a handful of aircraft, just so that they can clone some of the Su-35’s fanciest technology, in particular its advanced radar set. It will be looking instead for a serious commitment for the procurement of several squadrons.

The acquisition would make good sense for the PLAAF: the Su-35 would be the most effective aircraft in its inventory and serve as a powerful force multiplier. At the same time, it would be a setback for China’s self-sufficiency drive, and an admission that the dream of total self-reliance is still some years away from being realized. China is busy recasting itself as a defense exporter, rather than an importer. But the need for an advanced frontline fighter like the Su-35 might force Beijing, just this once, to break its own rules.

Joseph Tan
November 30, 2012 at 15:23

Of course, China is not that stupid as well. Russia had peddled their wares to Libya, Syria, India, Brazil, South Korea, Venezeula, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia etc etc and no one is buying. Why? It is not sellable. It is the buyer's market.
Would China satisfy with this down-grade? However if China bought the plane, it would immediately boost the sellability of the carft. Look at Su-27, – 30MKK, -30 MK2 – once China bought, she brought along a whole string of buyers. 

Joseph Tan
November 30, 2012 at 15:09

Do you know there is a "G-2" kind of grouping out there? One is America – guess which is the other country? Think before you say/ or write!!!

Joseph Tan
November 30, 2012 at 15:05

American multinational unshamely tried to patent bismati rice strain as claim such rice belongs to them. So shamelessly. Innovative thief!!!

November 11, 2012 at 09:33

Right, like the world will believe what the Canadian says……………

March 26, 2012 at 16:10

Look guys, let’s separate facts from conjecture or your personal political views. First of all, the SU-35 is FAR more capable than anything the Chinese currently are fielding, it is NOT a simple SU-27 upgrade. Without even getting into its digital avionics, electronic warfare, and maneuvering capabilities, the Chinese having a good look at the engines would be a huge win for them. Why? Because everyone knows that the Chinese (and in comparison to the U.S., the Russains also) have had difficulties developing the types of high-thrust, very reliable engines found on American fighters for decades now. The SU-35 will legitimately supercruise, no real doubt about that, which in and of itself would provide the technology boost for their future J-20, making this purchase VERY worthwhile. Developing that kind of engine takes YEARS and BILLIONS, but not if you can “borrow” (steal) it ( sorry, that was MY political viewpoint coming through :-) )
Now if you can relate to all that, then is it really any surprise that 1.) the Chinese would want to purchase the SU-35 and 2) that the Russians would be leary? It’s pretty simple, once you get past your political squabbling.
If I were the Russians, I would sell ONLY if they can secure the technology (no source code, make the engine a down-rated version of what’s currently in production.)

March 24, 2012 at 23:14

like it or not china is great country and always will be. Remember the good old time when all countries looked for chinese protection. Envy is bad for heart.

March 24, 2012 at 23:04

Don’t forget that US was stealing not only design and technology but also and scientist themselves, That is why the first working american rocket can be concidered as German. China needs only time to catch up. Soon chinese engineers will have enough experience to build entirely own fighters , processors (wich is fact now) and so on. Also U$ steals money from everywhere and anybody and it is not a problem to spend 500 billion dollars on military.

March 12, 2012 at 19:23

@SCdad07: And the world is supposed to believe what china says? LMAO.

March 11, 2012 at 01:38

Mar 10: – China’s Defense Ministry dismissed that information, “Moscow and Beijing signed a purchase contract 48 Su-35″ is not true.

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