Soviet and Russian roots of Chinese fighters

Attack aircraft Q-5. The original version of the development of the MiG-19. Photo Wikimedia Commons

The Air Force of the People’s Liberation Army of China has a large amount of Chinese-made aircraft. However, a significant part of self-assembled combat aircraft suspiciously resembles Soviet and Russian technology. The reasons for this are simple and obvious – at one time, the PRC acquired Russian and Soviet aircraft, which later became the basis for Chinese projects.

Early copies

At the turn of the fifties and sixties, shortly before the breakdown of relations, the USSR managed to betray to China a number of modern front-line aircraft and technologies for their production. So, in 1958-59. in China, they launched the assembly of the J-6 fighter, which was a licensed version of the Soviet MiG-19. Almost immediately, the Air Force wanted to get an attack aircraft based on this machine, but its development was interrupted for several years.

In 1965, the first flight of the Nanchang Q-5 strike aircraft, based on the MiG-19 / J-6, took place. It retained some of the features and components of the base sample, but was seriously different in appearance. In particular, they abandoned the frontal air intake and used a pointed nose cone. In 1970, the Q-5 entered service and became the first production aircraft of its own design by the PRC. Later, more than 10 modifications of the aircraft were created for the own Air Force and six versions of the export attack aircraft.

Soviet and Russian roots of Chinese fighters

The Su-27SK is the progenitor of a whole series of Chinese projects. Photo

During the restoration of Soviet-Chinese relations, in 1990, the PRC Air Force got acquainted with the MiG-29 fighters and even acquired documentation for one of the modifications. It did not come to the purchase of aircraft or the launch of licensed production – the Air Force chose a different fighter. However, according to some reports, the acquired documentation was later used in the development of the Chengdu FC-1 fighter. There was no question of direct copying – this aircraft does not look like the MiG-29.

“Su” in Chinese

The MiG-29 was not purchased due to the decision to purchase the Su-27SK and Su-27UBK. 24 aircraft of two types of new construction were handed over to the customer in 1992. In the PLA Air Force, Russian Su-27s received their own designation J-11. In 2002, a second order for such aircraft in the amount of 76 units appeared.

In 1996, they signed an agreement on the licensed assembly of the Su-27 at the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation plant. China has ordered 200 of these machines with a total cost of approx. USD 2.5 billion. The first aircraft was assembled from a machine kit at the end of 1998, but the full-scale series was set up only in 2000. Until 2003, the Russian side sent 95 aircraft assembly kits to China. Their composition gradually changed, as the Chinese side mastered the production of certain units.

Su-30MKK of the Chinese Air Force. Photo by Wikimedia Commmons

In 2003, China abandoned further licensed production. It was argued that the Su-27SK / UBK has insufficient characteristics and combat capabilities, is limitedly compatible with Chinese weapons and control loops, etc. In addition, the dependence on imported components was indicated. Before the breakdown of the agreement, 95 aircraft were built out of 200 ordered.

Shortly before this, the PRC announced the development of its own project for the modernization of the J-11 with the J-11B index. It was planned to keep the glider of Soviet / Russian origin and equip it with engines, avionics and weapons made in China. Tests of the J-11B began in 2006, and by the end of the decade they had developed a combat training modification of the J-11BS with a two-seater cockpit.

At the end of the 2000th PLA Air Force, they began to gradually write off the existing Su-27SK / UBK due to the depletion of the resource. By this time, the SAC corporation had established full-scale production of the J-11B, and modern equipment began to arrive in part. According to various sources, to date, at least 180-200 J-11 aircraft of all modifications have been built, which are distributed between the Air Force and naval aviation.

Fighter J-11 Chinese assembly. Photo Wikimedia Commons

In 2015, the J-11D fighter was taken for testing, updated with the use of modern electronic equipment and weapons. Like its predecessors, it is based on the Su-27 airframe, but it has many other differences. Even then, comparisons of the J-11D with the newest Russian Su-35S fighter began to appear in the Chinese media. For obvious reasons, the Chinese car won this “competition”. Nevertheless, work on the J-11D dragged on, and it was the Su-35S that was adopted.

In 2012, it became known about the existence of a new version of the J-11 – J-16. This is a multifunctional fighter with improved performance and more advanced equipment. It was reported about the development of a specialized modification-carrier of electronic warfare systems. According to various sources, at least 120-130 units have been built to date. J-16 of both modifications.

Upgraded J-11B. Photo by US Navy

Ukrainian trace

It is known that in the early nineties, the PRC showed interest in the Soviet / Russian carrier-based fighter Su-33. For a long time, the possibility of purchasing several dozen of such aircraft was discussed, but then the volume of a potential contract was reduced to a minimum, and the negotiations stopped.

As it became known later, in 2001, China purchased from Ukraine a T-10K aircraft – one of the experienced Su-33s. The car was carefully studied to master new solutions and technologies. The results of this work appeared towards the end of the decade. In 2009, the first flight of the new carrier-based fighter J-15 took place, and soon the car was shown to the general public. In 2012, flight tests began on the aircraft carrier Liaoning. Now serial J-15s are on board aircraft carriers. Up to 40-50 of these machines have been built, and production continues.

Despite the obvious external similarity, SAC denied the version about copying the purchased Su-33. It was argued that the J-15 is a further development of the J-11 aircraft. The glider was modified taking into account new loads and with the introduction of the front horizontal tail; the composition of the onboard equipment was revised taking into account the new tasks.

Carrier-based fighter J-15D. Photo

Originals and Copies

The PLA Air Force and Navy have about 1700-1900 fighters and attack aircraft of various types. About a hundred Su-27 aircraft of two modifications and up to 125 Su-30MKK / MK2 remain in service. Completed an order for 24 units. Su-35S. Under license, 95 J-11 aircraft were assembled from Russian vehicle kits. Thus, a significant part of the PLA tactical aircraft fleet is made up of Soviet / Russian-designed aircraft and, mainly, Russian assembly.

The number of Chinese J-11B (S) exceeds 100-150 units. Up to 50 deck J-15s and more than 100-120 units were built. J-16. The production of such equipment continues, and in the future, in terms of its quantity, it will overtake Russian-designed aircraft. At the same time, in the field of carrier-based aviation, Chinese fighters have already become unconditional and uncontested leaders.

Currently, the Chinese industry is developing and putting into production the new generation J-20 and J-31 fighters. Apparently, when creating them, technologies were used that were mastered in the production of Russian cars, but this is no longer a direct copying of aircraft. In the future, the number and share of new generation fighters in the army will grow, but they will not yet be able to become the basis of the Air Force. Older cars will remain an important part of the fleet, incl. import assembly and development.

Aircraft carrier Liaoning with J-15 fighters. Photo Wikimedia Commons

From different points of view

Lacking a developed school of aircraft construction, China at one time turned to other countries for help. Until the early sixties, he managed to get equipment and technologies from the USSR, and three decades later began cooperation with Russia. Thanks to this, the PRC industry was able to master several samples of different generations, as well as gain experience for the subsequent development of its own projects.

From the Chinese point of view, all these processes are unequivocally positive. With the problem of re-equipping the Air Force and the Navy, they coped first with someone else’s help, and then on their own. At the same time, aircraft manufacturers have always had access to the newest and most modern models of foreign development. Now the PRC has a developed aviation industry capable of gradually covering all the needs of the armed forces without critical dependence on imported products.

However, such approaches have drawbacks. First of all, this is lagging behind the leaders – copying takes some time and allows foreign countries to get ahead. In addition, copying foreign designs creates a dubious reputation. So, negotiations on some contracts were delayed due to suspicions of intent to copy equipment.

Experienced fighter J-16D. Photo

Chinese orders, together with other foreign contracts, helped the Irkutsk and Komsomolsk-on-Amur aircraft plants to survive the most difficult period. However, the break in the agreement on the supply of machine kits to the PRC seriously impeded planning and reduced the real income of our industry. However, this did not have a critical impact on the state of the factories. In addition, SAC Corporation did not launch its projects of the J-11 family on the international market and did not compete with our enterprises.

Thus, China uses every opportunity to develop its defense industry, incl. aircraft construction. One of the main methods of such development is the copying of foreign samples and the use of borrowed ideas. In recent decades, Russian aircraft have been the main source of technologies and solutions in the field of aviation – and this has determined the appearance of the Air Force and naval aviation both at the moment and for the foreseeable future.

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