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Analysis: China eyes new Russian tech

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
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.

(Andrei Chang is editor-in-chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto Canada.)

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