In the early 90s of the XX century, the PLA Air Force's fighter fleet looked very archaic. It was based on the J-6 fighters (a copy of the MiG-19) and J-7 (a copy of the MiG-21), and there were also about 150 J-8 air defense interceptors. After the normalization of relations between our countries, China has become one of the largest buyers of Russian weapons. Even before the collapse of the USSR, Chinese representatives expressed interest in acquiring modern fighters. Initially, the front-line MiG-29 fighters were offered to Beijing. However, having familiarized themselves with the capabilities of these combat aircraft, the Chinese military expressed a desire to get a fighter with a longer flight range, with more powerful weapons and radar. In 1991, a contract was signed for the supply to the PRC of 38 single-seat Su-27SK fighters (export modification of the Su-27S) and 12 two-seat combat training Su-27UBK. By mutual agreement of the parties, the content of the transaction, including its value, was not disclosed. But experts believe that the total value of the contract was at least $ 1.7 billion. However, the Chinese side repaid part of the cost with not the highest quality "consumer goods".
In June 1992, the first batch of 8 Su-27SK and 4 Su-27UBK entered the PLA Air Force combat regiment. In November of the same year, 12 more single-seat vehicles were added to the first batch. Single-seat Su-27SK were built at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Production Association named after V.I. A. Gagarin (KnAAPO), and sparks for China were assembled at the Irkutsk Aviation Production Association (IAPO). Along with the Su-2SK / UBK aircraft, spare parts and aircraft weapons were supplied from Russia. Including the R-27 and R-73 air combat missiles.
Soon after the start of operation of the Su-27SK, the Chinese side proposed to organize a joint licensed production in the PRC. The negotiations, which lasted several years, were successfully completed in 1996. Under a $ 2.5 billion contract, the Russian company Sukhoi and Shenyang Aircraft Corporation signed an agreement to build 200 Su-27SK fighters at an aircraft plant in Shenyang (Liaoning province). Assembly kits and electronic stuffing for the first fighters were delivered by transport planes from Komsomolsk-on-Amur, but over time, the PRC began to produce their own components. In China, Su-27SK fighters assembled in Shenyang were designated J-11. The J-11 fighters of the first series were identical to the Russian export Su-27SK, they were also equipped with the N001E radar, an optoelectronic station and the RLPK-27 weapons control equipment. The detection range of a fighter-type target was 70 km, the maximum detection range was 110 km. The onboard radar station could track up to 10 targets and simultaneously fire on 2 of them. Taking into account the Su-27SK assembled under license in Shenyang, China received a total of 283 aircraft.
The J-11 fighter first flew in 1998. The first licensed aircraft entered the same aviation regiments, where the Su-27SK delivered from Russia were already operated. In total, 105 licensed J-11 fighters were assembled in the PRC. A significant number of aircraft were fitted with Chinese-made avionics. After 105 J-11 aircraft were built under the license, the Chinese side tore up the agreement, citing the "low combat characteristics" of Russian fighters. Subsequently, the reserve that was not implemented within the framework of the Chinese contract was used at KnAAPO for the production of Su-27SM3 fighters.
The claims about the "low combat characteristics" of the Su-27SK were clearly far-fetched.Gaining economic and military power, China, having received the most modern combat aircraft at that time, technical documentation and technology, did not want to be dependent on the goodwill of its northern neighbor, which had entered a protracted period of not very successful economic transformations. In addition, in Beijing, remembering the history of Soviet-Chinese relations, they decided "not to put all their eggs in one basket" and tried to reduce dependence on imported components and develop their own aircraft industry. After the production of the main components and assemblies was localized in the PRC, and the Chinese research institutes successfully developed their own avionics, our eastern neighbor decided not to spend money on the purchase of aircraft, which he could successfully build himself. The technologies received from Russia have allowed the Chinese aviation industry to make a qualitative leap, bringing it to a new level of development. In a short period of time, China has managed to catch up with a 30-year gap in this area. At present, despite the difficulties with the creation of modern aircraft engines, in the PRC there is the possibility of building all types of combat aircraft, including the 5th generation fighters. However, after the license agreement was terminated, China purchased 290 AL-31F aircraft engines from Russia, which were installed on the Su-27SK and J-11 fighters.
The opinion that “the copy is always worse than the original” is untenable. According to the stories of Russian specialists who helped to establish the construction of the Su-27SK at the aircraft plant in Shenyang, our Chinese "partners" from the very beginning made very strict requirements to the quality of components supplied from Russia, mercilessly rejecting parts that had even small scratches in the paintwork. affecting flight data and flight safety. Equally strictly, the Chinese followed directly the assembly of the aircraft, checking each operation several times. At the same time, the quality of aircraft assembled in the PRC was even higher than at KnAAPO.
Despite the extremely unpleasant for Russia and very indicative incident with the refusal of the licensed construction of the Su-27SK, military-technical cooperation in the field of combat aviation between our countries did not stop. In 1999, the Su-30MKK two-seat multifunctional fighter was created especially for China. In contrast to the Indian Su-30MKI, the fighter, created by the Chinese order, was distinguished by the vertical tail of a larger area, as well as the standard production AL-31F engines without a thrust vector control system. In addition, a destabilizer was not installed on the Chinese version. Thanks to the additional fuel tanks, the combat radius has significantly increased compared to the Su-27SK.
In terms of its combat capabilities, at the time of its creation, the Su-30MKK surpassed all serial combat aircraft in the Russian Air Force. The fighter received a new airborne radar and optoelectronic station and a weapon control system. Information is displayed on multifunctional LCD displays. Compared to the single-seat Su-27SK, due to the introduction of guided air-to-ground weapons, its strike capabilities have significantly expanded. In August 1999, Russia and China signed an agreement on the supply of 45 Russian Su-30MKK fighters within three years. Subsequently, China ordered 31 more fighters. According to expert estimates, the total amount of the transaction was about $ 3 billion.
Intensive use and, as a consequence, the rapid deterioration of the two-seater Su-27UBK and the loss of several aircraft in flight accidents led to a shortage of combat training pairs in the PLA Air Force. In this regard, in the early 2000s, it was decided to purchase 24 Su-30MK2. Unlike the Su-27UBK, the multipurpose Su-30MK2 is capable of performing combat missions associated with a long range and duration of flight. The Su-30MK2 used in-flight refueling systems, navigation systems, and group action control equipment was introduced.Due to the installation of new missiles and a weapon control system, the combat effectiveness of the aircraft was significantly increased.
After a detailed acquaintance with the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2, Chinese specialists began to further improve the serially built J-11 heavy fighters. By the time the license agreement was canceled for the J-11A heavy fighters assembled in Shenyang, the Chinese Type 1492 radar, which was previously intended for the J-8D interceptor, had been adapted. Chinese sources claim that this station is capable of seeing an air target with an RCS of 1 m², flying towards them at a distance of up to 100 km.
The J-11A fighter also received a Chinese-made WS-10A engine. The Russian media have repeatedly stated that the WS-10A is a Chinese copy of the Russian AL-31F engine. However, every visitor to the Beijing Aviation Museum can be convinced that this is not true. Since June 2010, the WS-10A TRDDF has been available for free viewing in the museum exhibition.
The development of the WS-10 TRDDF was carried out at the 606th Shenyang Research Institute of the Ministry of Aviation Industry. American sources claim that the appearance of the WS-10A is largely due to the fact that in 1982 the United States sold to the PRC two CFM56-2 engines manufactured by CFM International for testing purposes. Engines of this type were installed on the Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 707 airliners. Although the CFM56-2 TRDDF is a civilian, its main components: a high-pressure compressor, a combustion chamber and a high-pressure turbine were also used on the General Electric F110 turbojet engine, which in turn was installed on 4th generation fighters F-15 and F-16. The Pentagon was strongly opposed to sending these engines to China. However, the then administration of President Ronald Reagan, hoping for an alliance with the PRC against the USSR, insisted on a deal on the condition that the engines should be stored in special sealed containers and opened only in the presence of American representatives; disassembly of the engines was strictly prohibited. But the Chinese, in their usual manner, did not respect the agreement, opened the engines, disassembled and studied their components. Subsequently, Beijing refused to return the engines to the United States on the grounds that they "burned out in a fire."
Until now, it is widely believed among Russian "patriots" that the WS-10 turbofan engine is inferior in all respects to the Soviet AL-31F aircraft engine, and its overhaul life does not exceed 30-40 hours. But apparently, since the creation of the first version of the WS-10A, Chinese specialists have managed to make serious progress in terms of increasing the resource, increasing reliability and reducing weight. According to Western sources, as of today, more than 400 WS-10 aircraft engines of various modifications could be assembled in the PRC.
In 2014, the Chinese media published an interview with Lao Tung, a representative of the Shenyang Research Institute 606, at the Zhuhai Air Show. Lao Tung said that WS-10B engines are installed on J-11B fighters. According to Lao Tong, the WS-10's assigned life is now 1,500 hours and the TBO is 300 hours. He also said that the engine is being improved and the version currently being produced uses more new composite materials, which made the engine lighter, and thanks to the creation of new refractory alloys for the turbine blades, it can run longer in afterburner mode. It is reported that one of the WS-10 variants is capable of developing thrust up to 155kN. The following modifications of the aircraft engine are known:
- WS-10G - designed for the Chinese 5th generation fighter J-20.
- WS-10ТVС - with variable thrust vector for the J-11D fighter.
However, the J-11V differs from the Su-27SK not only in its engine. The new Chinese fighter received a frameless cockpit canopy. Thanks to the use of composite materials, the "dry" weight of the aircraft was reduced by 700 kg. Also, locally developed avionics were installed on an improved Chinese unlicensed copy of the Su-27.The most significant innovation in the part of avionics was the Type 1494 radar with a detection range of air targets up to 200 km. The Chinese multipurpose radar, coupled with a fire control system, is capable of tracking 8 targets and aiming 4 missiles at them simultaneously. On the new modification of the heavy fighter, Chinese specialists used nationally developed guided aircraft weapons, abandoning one of the restrictions imposed by the license agreement. When concluding a contract for the supply of the Su-27SK, the Russian side set a condition on the prohibition of replacing the suspension pylons, thus Russia tried to limit the arsenal of fighters to only Russian-made weapons.
The armament of the J-11B includes PL-8 melee missiles, which, according to the West, are based on the design of the Israeli Rafael Python 3 missile. The rocket mass is 115 kg, the launch range is 0.5-20 km.
PL-12 missiles can be used to combat air targets outside the line of sight. This missile is considered in the United States to be the Chinese analogue of the AIM-120 AMRAAM. However, in the PRC they traditionally claim that this is a purely Chinese development. The rocket weighing about 200 kg with a dual-mode solid-propellant engine is equipped with an active radar homing head and is capable of hitting targets at a distance of up to 80 km.
Almost simultaneously with the single J-11В, the production of the J-11BS combat trainer began. The two-seater modification was intended for the final replacement of the extremely worn out by now Su-27UBK. Western experts agree that the production capacity of the aircraft manufacturer Shenyang Aircraft Corporation allowed a total of more than 130 J-11B and J-11BS aircraft to be built. The strength of the Chinese J-11B heavy fighters in the United States is that they have equipment on board that allows them to automatically receive data on the air situation from ground guidance points and AWACS KJ-200 and KJ-500 aircraft over a secure radio channel, which makes it possible for Chinese pilots to receive information superiority over their adversary.
In the first half of 2015, images of a new modification, the J-11D, appeared in the media. In China, this aircraft is called the Chinese "analogue" of the Russian Su-35S. The new modification is said to be equipped with the latest avionics.
The aircraft received a multifunctional radar with AFAR, a new EDSU, and an in-air refueling system. Composite materials are widely used in the design of the modernized fighter, their share reaches 10% of the airframe mass. In the future, the J-11D should receive engines with a controlled thrust vector WS-10ТVС, which will allow it to have maneuverability at the level of the Su-35. The J-11D fighter will be armed with PL-10 and PL-15 air-to-air missiles.
Some of the technical characteristics of the PL-10E were revealed in an interview with one of the Chinese TV channels by the chief designer of the rocket Liang Xiaogen. The missile is equipped with a multi-element anti-jamming homing head with photocontrast, thermal and ultraviolet channels. It is stated that the angle of capture of the GOS UR PL-10E generation has reached 90 ° against 60 ° of the Russian P-73, which, in combination with the helmet-mounted target designation system, makes it possible to more successfully resist enemy fighters in close combat. The PL-10E weighs 90.7 kg and has a launch range of up to 20 km.
The PL-15 rocket was created to replace the PL-12 missile launcher. The exact characteristics of the PL-10 long-range missile equipped with an active radar seeker are not known. But in the United States, it is believed that its launch range can reach 150 km.
Thus, Chinese fighters can gain an advantage in long-range missile duels over American combat aircraft equipped with AIM-120C-7 missile launchers with a firing range of 120 km. PLA Air Force heavy fighters with long-range missiles will be able to push back the patrol lines of enemy AWACS and electronic reconnaissance aircraft, as well as intercept strategic bombers until cruise missiles are launched from them.
However, the aviation industry of the PRC is not yet able to create its own heavy fighter of the 4 ++ generation, which is superior to the Russian Su-35 in everything. A number of Russian media outlets even reported that the J-11D program had been stopped. However, it is extremely naive to believe that China, faced with technical difficulties, will refuse to further improve its own combat aviation.
In terms of their capabilities, the J-11 aircraft of the latest series available in the troops approximately correspond or even have an advantage over the domestic modernized Su-27SM and are the most advanced Chinese-made fighters designed to gain air superiority and intercept air targets when performing air defense missions. At the same time, Chinese combatant J-11s are seriously inferior to Russian Su-35S fighters. Thus, the Su-35S significantly outperforms all production versions of the J-11 in terms of onboard fuel, which significantly increases the range and duration of flight without refueling in the air. In addition, due to its better maneuverability, the Russian fighter has a better chance of winning in close combat.
The characteristics of the new Chinese radar stations and weapons control systems are not exactly known, but most experts are inclined to believe that if the R-77-1 / RVV-SD medium-range missiles are used on the Su-35, the Russian fighter will have superiority in long-range missile duels. …
Apparently, export-version R-77 missiles in the past were supplied to the PRC simultaneously with the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2 fighters. In 2010, the Tactical Missile Weapons Corporation in its annual report published information on the fulfillment of obligations under the contract concluded with China on the supply of spare parts for RVV-AE aircraft missiles totaling $ 3 million 552 thousand. According to unconfirmed information published in unauthorized sources, during From 2003 to 2010, the Vympel State Machine-Building Design Bureau manufactured up to 1,500 missiles to be sent to the PRC.
At the end of 2015, information was released on the signing of an agreement for the supply of 24 Su-35SK fighters to China. The estimated cost of the contract is about $ 2.5 billion. In addition to the aircraft themselves, the contract value also includes: training of flight personnel, ground equipment and backup engines. The first 4 Su-35SKs arrived in China at the end of 2016. In November 2018, all fighters ordered in Russia were handed over to the PLA Air Force.
On May 11, 2018, a Chinese Su-35SK was spotted at the Novosibirsk Tolmachevo airport. A number of experts believe that the fighter with tail number 61271 flew from the PRC to Zhukovsky near Moscow to the airfield of the Flight Research Institute named after M.M. Gromov, for use in the training program for Chinese flight personnel.
The export version of the Su-35SK for the PLA Air Force has a number of differences from the Su-35S, adopted by the Russian Aerospace Forces. Repeatedly in the Military Review, in the comments on the supply of the Su-35SK to China, the opinion was expressed that the export modification has "cut down" characteristics and cannot compete with combat Russian fighters. However, one should not pass off wishful thinking and consider our "strategic partners" to be frankly not smart people who buy second-rate weapons. There are indeed differences between the Su-35SK and the Su-35S, but they primarily lie in the absence on the fighters built for the PRC, the Russian nationality identification system and the automated target designation equipment adopted by the RF Aerospace Forces. In addition, the Chinese side demanded to equip the cockpit with Chinese-made avionics.
In the Russian media, the contract for the supply of the Su-35SK to the PRC is often presented as a significant achievement.However, one cannot but draw attention to the insignificant by Chinese standards, the number of purchased fighters, which is not even enough to form a full-fledged fighter aviation regiment by Russian standards. In addition, the Chinese representatives do not hide the fact that they are primarily interested in the design features and capabilities of the Russian fighter. First of all, this applies to the radar with a phased antenna array N035 "Irbis" and the weapons control system. Apparently, the radar installed on the Su-35SK is superior to the Chinese Type 1494 radar. Open sources say that the H035 Irbis can detect an air target with an RCS of 3 m² on a collision course at a distance of 350-400 km. Due to the unavailability of their own engine with a variable thrust vector, the Chinese developers were very interested in the technical secrets inherent in the TRDDF with the AL-41F1S OVT. There is no doubt that at least one AL-41F1S engine is already being studied in a specialized Chinese research institute, the same applies to the N035 Irbis onboard radar.
Claims that Chinese experts will not be able to reveal Russian secrets are not consistent. In the past, specialized Chinese institutes managed to illegally copy very complex samples of foreign equipment and weapons. In the early 90s in our country, many did not believe that the Chinese aviation industry was able to independently produce copies of the Su-27 fighter. However, albeit with difficulty, the Chinese coped with this task. Do not forget that thanks to the huge resources invested in personnel training and fundamental research, the scientific and technical potential of the PRC has increased many times since then, Chinese research organizations and industrial base are already quite capable of the most sophisticated technological products of the world level.