Analysis: China eyes new Russian tech
by Andrei Chang
Hong Kong (UPI) Nov 23, 2007
A Chinese military source based in Beijing has said the People's Liberation Army Air Force is negotiating with the Russian Sukhoi Aircraft Company on three new projects.
Military observers based in Moscow and Beijing say they believe the recent nadir of military cooperation between China and Russia is only temporary. China will have to rely on Russia to develop its military technologies, as Beijing has no other alternative.
The first new project involves Su-33 shipborne fighters. Experts from the Russian aviation industry are convinced that China is about to start the construction of an aircraft carrier.
"Up to the present, on the issue of the Su-33, China and Sukhoi have had three rounds of negotiations and have reached some agreement," said the source.
Nonetheless, he did not disclose what specific progress has been made in the negotiations, merely confirming that additional rounds of talks will be held. A high-level source from Sukhoi confirmed his company is most interested in discovering whether the Chinese want to purchase whole Su-33 fighters or only require Su-33 parts, and whether they will request the transfer of production technology or design blueprints.
Other sources from the Chinese military industry said that several plans were involved in the negotiations on the Su-33. One of them is that China will buy a small number of Su-33, say 10 to 24, and later request that production technologies be transferred. However, the Chinese strategy is to use some of the Su-33 technology to develop their own shipborne fighter based on the J-11B assembled domestically.
The second project under negotiation involves the newest Su-35 fighter. At the MAKS 2007 International Aviation and Space Salon held at the Zhukovsky Air Base near Moscow in August, Chinese delegates took photos and videos of the Su-35 virtually every day.
"Several Chinese delegations have visited Sukhoi and raised technical questions," the Sukhoi company representative said. He said the two sides have reached a consensus and are now working on export plans.
"At least in the foreseeable future, China's indigenous aviation technologies will not be able to produce combat aircraft similar to the Su-35," he said. "Our attitude on this issue is the same as the case of the Su-33; that is, we are only interested in exporting whole Su-35s. This is not what the Chinese delegates hoped for. They hoped to import only certain subsystems, for instance the radar systems or the engines."
The third project concerns the PLA Navy's plan to import more Su-30MK2 fighters, or upgraded variants of the aircraft. No progress has been made on this as yet, however. A plan for China to import Su-30MK3 fighters, which was negotiated earlier, has not been carried out so far.
The possibility that the navy will continue importing Su-30MK2s or Su-30MK3s appears slim, mainly because it has already started to receive China-made JH-7A fighters. Meanwhile, the upgrade of the J-11B fighter aircraft has been very comprehensive. The fighter is now capable of launching precision attacks on battleships, and can basically meet the combat requirements of the navy fleet. China may not resume the import of Su-30MK2s unless the cost of the J-11B remains too high or comes close to the cost of the Su-30MK2.
Is there any possibility that the PLA Air Force may upgrade its existing Su-30MK2s and J-11s, or the Indian Air Force's Su-30MKIs, to a combat platform close to the Su-35 standard?
Yury Bely, a general designer at Russia's NIIP Radar Design Bureau, agreed to discuss the question. "It is impossible to import the Su-35's radar system only," he said. Bely stressed that it would be more feasible to import brand new Su-35s than to try upgrading the Su-30MK2.
The Su-35 is equipped with the H035 passive phased array radar system, which has extremely powerful detection capability, Bely pointed out. The average output power of this radar is 5 kW, with peak output at 20 kW; thus the output power of the Su-30MKI and Su-30MK2 would be insufficient. When the H035 radar was tested on Su-30MK No. 503, the detection range was as far as 290 kilometers with 1 kW power output, he said.
I have to start by saying that I'm not anti-Russian or anti-Sukhoi or anything like that, but I do believe that Sukhoi's involvement with Chinese aviation is overstated.
Pinkov have wrote numerous articles regarding Sukhoi's dealing with China in Kanwa Defence Monthly (in fact like once every 2 months).
First, I think the third project should no longer be discussed at this point. China is clearly not interested in any more mkk. Simply put, PLA is more satisfied toward JH-7A than the MKKs at this point. JH-7A has better fuel efficiency, better avionics and a much better selection of weapons to choose from.
As for the second project, I can see why people would think that China want Su-35. After all, Russia is not likely to be able to offer and deliver PAK-FA to China before 2015. And most likely, it will not be available for export until 2020. Until then, su-35 is the only thing that Russia can offer to China. It seems that Russia has caught on that China is interested in 117S engine and Irbis radar. However, as in all cases, China is only interested in the technology rather than the plane itself. Of course, Russia knows that, so it's trying to package the rest of the plane and even brought up upgrading mkk with Irbis. As mentionned previously, China has tested out Irbis (even mentionned by JDW) and the result is that it is not as good as advertised. Besides, is it even believable that they can go from the 180 km detection range for Zhuk-MSE and upgraded Bars vs 5 sqm targets to 400 km vs 3 sqm targets? Not to mention that Russian radar have traditionally not being all that stealthy and makes it easier for passive radar to detect it. It is better than what China has right now, but what about in 3 to 5 years when China might get its first su-35? Will it be that advanced by then? And there is no question that China is interested in more advanced variants of AL-31, since WS-10A's maturity and production level still hasn't reached the required level. However, it seems like China is far more interested in the AL-31FM series. It has pretty much purchased this engine for J-10 + su-27 upgrades. It has signed up even contract with Salyut to do assembly of this engine series in Shenyang Liming (with ToT according to Chinese sources). Having said that, will su-35 really be better than J-11B in 3-5 years? And secondly, does China really need su-35? Will it provide any additional capability that China does not have? I would say that J-11B can be every bit as good as su-35 (especially in A2A combat) by that time. J-11B's T/W ratio can certainly be as good as su-35 with its weight reduction from su-27 and increased thrust on WS-10A. The much touted RCS reduction techniques on su-35 can and probably have already been applied on J-11B. In addition, things like modern quadriplex FBW, MAW, holographic HUD and MFDs have been incorporated on J-11B. Other than the current advantage for Irbis, does su-35 really have any avionics advantages over J-11B? And more importantly, su-35 will just be another plane that will be crushed by F-22/35 in any likely war scenario. Sure, it can match up against modern variants of the teen series, but so can J-11B. With AWACS like KJ-2000 supporting J-11B, what kind of advantages does su-35 really offer over J-11B?
Finally, China has certainly selected the flanker series for its naval fighters. Although J-10 offers a better A2A platform, it certainly doesn't have the range or payload of flankers. China has already purchased a T-10K from Ukraine for study. Chinese rumour has it that China also got 2 su-33 for testing purposes. Now, it certainly makes not a lot of sense for China to just buy su-33s, because it would not be able to use Chinese missiles and bombs. So, the only option I see in terms of export is if China is allowed to integrate its own set of avionics and missiles on this naval product.
In the end, I'm sure there are a lot of conversations between China and Sukhoi. However, China does not need Sukhoi right now. Su-35 and modern variants of su-33 have not been fully developed yet. And they are not revolutionary machinery that China cannot get in the next few years. China will continue to contact Sukhoi to try to get as much help as possible, but any big purchases are unlikely in the future. J-10 remains the front line and work horse fighter for PLA. Flankers will get plenty of orders with its greater range and potential as a multi-role aircraft, but its orders will certainly not come close to that of J-10.