Sukhoi Nears Deal with China on Su-35 Fighters

 - December 14, 2012, 12:45 PM
The Sukhoi Su-35 appears to have clinched its first export sale, to China, on the eve of entering Russian air force service. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

China is close to signing for 24 Sukhoi Su-35 single-seat multirole fighters, in a deal worth $1.5 billion. The Moscow-based newspaper Vedomosti recently reported that Beijing and Moscow have agreed delivery terms, including quantity and price. Rosoboronexport and Sukhoi declined to comment.

Today, the Su-35 is the most advanced Russian heavyweight multirole fighter available for export, while the stealthy PAKFA in development remains available “exclusively” to India. Moscow has long been ready to sell China a quantity of Su-35 fighters provided Beijing placed a worthwhile order, and not merely a couple of specimens for reverse engineering. Negotiations have been going on for several years, with Russia insisting on a minimum 48-aircraft buy, and China requesting a smaller number of aircraft. During Airshow China 2012 last month, a large Russian delegation that included United Aircraft president Mikhail Pogosyan and Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev gave an additional presentation of the Su-35.

Apparently, the two nations reached a compromise of 24 aircraft during the subsequent official visit of Sergei Shoigu, the newly appointed Russian defense minister, to Beijing. During his November 20 to 22 visit, he chaired a meeting of the Sino-Russian inter-government commission on military-technical cooperation. He also held private meetings with top Chinese officials, and described (on Chinese TV) the current level of Sino-Russian cooperation as “unprecedented” and of “strategic character.” “Russia is ready to further strengthen this cooperation,“ Shoigu added.

The Su-35 contract is expected to be formalized next year, with deliveries starting in 2015, after the plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur delivers a sufficient number of the newly built Su-35s to the Russian air force. If signed, the contract will mark a new era in the troubled Sino-Russian fighter relationship, which has been in stagnation since 2004 when the Kremlin learned about China making unlicensed copies of the Su-27SK in the form of the J-11.

China terminated the license assembly of the Su-27SKs after completing only 105 of the 200 aircraft specified in the license agreement.

The Su-35 in its current form flew for the first time in 2008, and is a further development of the Su-27. While retaining the aerodynamic shape and outward appearance of its predecessor, the Su-35 has a completely new avionics suite, including Tikhomorov’s NIIP N-035 Irbis radar with passive electronic scanning, replacing the N-001 Mech with Cassegrain parabolic antenna and mechanical beam

scanning. To attain supersonic cruise (supercruise) capability, the Su-35 is powered by a pair of NPO Saturn Item 117S engines each delivering 14,500 kg (31,967 pounds) of thrust at full afterburner and 8,800kg (19,400 pounds) at military power.

In part, the Su-35 development was funded with loans, including those from VEB, one of the five large state banks under Kremlin control. The Russian MoD placed a first firm order in 2009, for 48 airplanes, while Rosoboronexport continues negotiations with Venezuela, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Su-35 prototypes have made nearly 700 test flights in the type certification program, which is not yet complete. The initial batch of six aircraft is expected to be delivered later this month; series production is slated to begin next year. The Russian air force expects to receive 250 newly built Sukhoi fighters, comprising Su-34, Su-35 and PAKFA types, this decade, according to Bondarev.