The Taiwanese air force will perhaps sigh in relief at the news that Russia is refusing to sell China Sukhoi Su-35 multirole aircraft — one of the world’s most advanced fighters — and top-of-the-line S-400 air defense systems over fears that Chinese engineers could eventually copy the technology.
The Russian-language Kommersant business newspaper reported earlier this year that Beijing last year had requested 48 Su-35s, valued at more than US$4 billion, as well as an unspecified number of S-400 systems.
With Taiwan already playing catch-up in the race for control of airspace in the Taiwan Strait, this development will provide relief, as the introduction of the Su-35 would have added to Taipei’s headaches.
Despite the impressive capabilities of the Su-35 — a so-called “four-plus-plus generation” aircraft — US analysts argue that the Lockheed Martin F-35, which Taiwan might now be interested in acquiring, is a superior fighter.
Ariel Cohen, a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation, claims that the F-35’s superiority stems from the Su-35 being a “modernization” of its “progenitor,” the Su-27, while the F-35 is a new model.
“The Russians have some good specific system technologies, [but] their ability to effectively integrate them often lags behind that of the West,” Cohen said.
Aircraft currently in service in Taiwan’s air force, or the F-16C/D that it has sought since 2006, would not have a similar edge.
For its part, with a range of approximately 400km, the S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system would have posed a serious threat to aircraft taking off from Taiwan, complementing China’s deployment of several 200km-range Russian-made S-300PMU-1 and S-300PMU-2 SAMs around cities and in Fujian Province facing Taiwan. China also deploys the HQ-9, a derivative of the S-300.
According to reports, China had planned to deploy the S-400 around its major cities to protect against incoming aircraft and ballistic targets.
At the heart of Moscow’s reluctance to release the defense articles to China are the aircraft’s engines and advanced passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar systems, the defense magazine Kanwa reported in its latest issue.
Relations between the two countries were strained recently over allegations that China’s Shenyang J-11B was a replica of the Russian-made Su-27.
China cancelled an order for 95 Su-27s last year after launched serial production of the J-11.
Russia has also often complained about China’s reverse engineering of its systems for production of its own cheaper export versions to compete against the Russian originals.
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