The Sukhoi Su-35 has come under the spotlight after reports about Tehran's willingness to acquire the Russia-made fighters. It's not only Iran that has demonstrated lively interest in Russia's aerial technology, but also the People's Republic of China that has bought 24 Su-35 combat aircraft so far. What's so special about the warplane?
"The Su-35 fighter is unique in terms of its combination of manoeuvrability, the ability to carry a large load, [and] to work both against air and ground targets," director of the Asian Security Project at the PIR Center, Vadim Kozyulin, told Sputnik.
"It has a digital complex that allows you to deliver high-precision strikes using cheap unguided bombs. This is a universal machine that has the potential for modernisation through the installation of new reconnaissance, electronic warfare, avionics, guidance, etc. It is very important that the advantages of this aircraft were confirmed in combat. This was also recognised by American experts."
The single-seat, twin-engine, super-manoeuvrable aircraft is a version of the Sukhoi Su-27 fighter that has been greatly modernised. The Su-35 is a “4++” generation warplane that uses fifth-generation fighter technology. According to the United Aircraft Corporation, it was designed so that it could fly and fight in conditions where "classic" (4+ generation) fighters were unable to engage in combat.
The multi-role warplane combines the qualities of a modern fighter, which boasts high supersonic speed and long range, and a good tactical airplane that can carry a wide range of weapons, including a modern electronic warfare system. In addition, it can both operate independently, or as part of a battle group controlled from an aerial, ground-based or ship-based command centre.
In addition to the Su-35's combat capabilities, there are several other reasons why the People's Republic of China has taken an interest in the jet fighter.
How It All Began
"The Soviet Union laid the groundwork for the Chinese aviation industry, so the engineering schools of our countries have the same roots," explained Kozyulin. "Of course, there was a significant break in contacts after the rupture of relations between China and the USSR [on June 22, 1960], but it's impossible to change or cancel design standards and skills. I think it played an important role when Chinese engineers started the reverse engineering of Russian aircraft."
Presently, the core of the People's Liberation Army Air Forces (PLAAF) is formed by the Shenyang J-11 and J-16 jets of various modifications, which originate from Russian prototypes: the Su-27SK and Su-30MKK, according to Vasily Kashin, a senior research fellow at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and an expert on China's military-industrial complex.
In addition, the Chinese air forces are also using the Shenyang J-15 fighters which are based on the Su-27 base platform, the production license which was bought by China in 1996, Kashin observed in an interview with Sputnik.
In the early 1990s, China acquired a number of the Su-27SK and Su-27UBK from the Russian Federation, but most of them have already been decommissioned, according to the military expert. Even though the Chinese have themselves mastered jet production, they nonetheless turned to Russia in November 2015 to buy 24 Su-35 fighters. In fact, China became the first foreign buyer of the state-of-art fighter jets.
Russia is China's 'Natural Ally' in Defence Cooperation
"The Su-35s were of interest to the Chinese because they represent the maximum development of the Su-27 family aircraft in Russia," Kashin told Sputnik. "Chinese aircraft based on the design of the Su-27 will form the basis of the fleet for a long time to come. They are not as perfect as the [China-made] fifth-generation J-20 fighters, but they are cheaper and more reliable. Therefore, the Chinese are interested in [Russia's] experience in the development of [the Su-27] family of machines."
Kashin pointed out that no country could currently provide itself with a complete set of cutting-edge military technologies and therefore everyone has to resort to international cooperation.
China's cooperation with the West does not appear realistic given that the US and NATO not only banned the supply of weapons and military technology to the PRC, but declared Beijing a long-term strategic challenge. Under these circumstances, cooperation with Russia comes in handy for the people's republic, according to the expert.
The Su-35 Tested in Real Combat
"China has made significant progress, but [Russia] still certain advantages in aircraft engines, in the design of aircraft, in certain types of their equipment," Kashin highlighted.
In contrast, the Sukhoi Su-35 has already proven highly effective both during the Syrian civil war and Russia's special military operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine.
In addition, Russian aircraft and other weapon systems are of interest for China because they were specifically designed to endure extreme weather conditions (frost and heat) and ensure easy maintenance of equipment under critical circumstances, in the absence of reliable logistics or qualified support, according to Kozyulin. "Russian technology is reliable, 'unpretentious' and relatively inexpensive, which is important in a real combat environment," the scholar emphasized.
"The Chinese aircraft have not yet surpassed the technical characteristics of the Su-35. For example, they have not yet been able to develop an aircraft engine with similar parameters. Therefore, for Chinese engineers, the Su-35 represents an interesting research base to try to use Russian findings to develop their own warplanes. But Russian engineers are also continuing to develop their projects. Export of the aircraft provides funds for new research. Therefore, Sukhoi is always open for new export sales." - Vadim Kozyulin - Director of the Asian Security Project at the PIR Center.
Credits : Ekaterina Blinova
- Ekaterina Blinova is a freelance journalist and has a specialist's degree in history and specialises in US, European, Middle Eastern and Asian politics, international relations, sociology and high tech