China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force could be on the brink of purchasing 48 Sukhoi 35 (Su-35) multirole air superiority fighters, in what has been described as one of the largest arms deals between the two countries in recent years.
A Russian Federation Ministry of Defence source told the Russian-language Kommersant business newspaper recently that the request for the Su-35s, made last year, was valued at more than US$4 billion, or about US$85 million per aircraft.
The two sides have “practically agreed” to the deal, the source said.
The Su-35 is a 4-plus-plus-generation multirole air superiority fighter that is just now entering service in the Russian Air Force, which has also ordered 48 in a deal that runs through 2015.
In addition to having some stealth and supercruise characteristics, the Su-35 is expected to be equipped with advanced passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar systems.
The acquisition could further tip the balance of air power in the Taiwan Strait in China’s favor, as Taiwan remains unsuccessful in its requests to obtain 66 F-16C/Ds from the US, an aircraft that is almost a full generation behind the Su-35 (China’s J-20 and the US’ F-22 and F-35 are so-called fifth-generation aircraft).
However, fears of technological theft could add complexity to the Su-35 deal.
According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, Moscow has demanded guarantees that key technologies included in the aircraft — such as the PESA radar and engines — will not be reverse-engineered by China for export.
One official said Russia would only allow the deal to proceed if China purchased a minimum of 24 aircraft.
Last year, China canceled an order for 95 Su-27s for local assembly after Shenyang Aircraft Corp (瀋陽飛機) launched serial production of the J-11 fighter, which experts regard as a near copycat of the Su-27.
Meanwhile, China also reportedly requested an unspecified number of Almaz-Antei S-400 long-range air defense systems from Moscow in November 2010, hoping those could be delivered by 2015. However, Jane’s reported that production problems could make delivery impossible before 2017.
China already has more than a dozen Russian-made S-300PMU2 “Favorit” air defense systems in operation, which have a range of about 200km. About eight battalions, recently deployed in Fujian Province, could shoot down aircraft within some sectors of Taiwanese airspace. The S-400 has a range of approximately 400km, or about twice that of the US-made Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) system deployed by Taiwan.