China closed a US$2 billion deal with Russia to purchase 24 Su-35 fighters. Question, looking at the rather small amount, according to defense analyst Wendell Minnick in Defense News: will China reverse engineer the planes, like it did before.
There are fears China’s decision to procure only 24 fighters indicates an intention to reverse engineer and copy the fighter, as it did with the Su-27SK. In 1995, China secured a $2.5 billion production license deal from Russia to build 200 Su-27SKs, dubbed the J-11A. In 2006, Russia killed the contract after 95 aircraft when it discovered China had reverse engineered the aircraft and was covertly manufacturing an indigenous variant, the J-11B, with Chinese-built avionics and weapons.
There are also fears China will want the Su-35’s sophisticated engine, the Saturn AL-117S, for its J-20 stealth fighter. The engine is also outfitted on Russia’s T-50 stealth fighter.
“I assume the reason why they are buying 24 … is to get hold of some of the embedded technologies,” said Roger Cliff, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The basic airframe of the Su-35 isn’t much changed from the Su-27 and Su-30, which China already has, so presumably they are going after other things such as thrust-vectoring, the Su-35’s passive electronically scanned array radar, or its infrared search-and-track system.”
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