China was the last user country to reach a military equipment export deal with the Soviet Union before the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In 1991, three Su-27SK fighter jets landed at the Chinese airport , becoming the first and last batch of Soviet-made advanced fighter jets that the People’s Liberation Army obtained from the Soviet Union.
The Beginning of the Modernization of the Chinese Air Force
With the substantial increase in the strength of the Chinese Air Force in recent years, the US media “Military Observer” refocused its attention on the fighters that came to China more than 30 years ago, and said that it was the arrival of these three top Soviet fighters that became China’s aviation industry. It is an opportunity to catch up with the United States and surpass Russia in technology , and it has opened the door to modernization for the Chinese Air Force .
Although the US media’s evaluation is somewhat generalized, the Su-27 fighter jet does have a very important historical significance for the development of the Chinese Air Force. China’s purchase of Su-27 was due to the air force construction needs and geopolitical situation at that time . After entering the 1980s, the West opened the door to export advanced fighter jets to China. The PLA also began to consider buying foreign fighter jets to quickly improve the level of troop equipment.
However, the Chinese delegation went around Europe and the United States. Western fighters were either too expensive or too complicated, or they were too deceitful. As Sino-Soviet relations returned to normal, the People’s Liberation Army still set its sights on the former Big Brother. It coincided with the economic recession of the Soviet Union at that time, and the military industry department was eager to survive by earning foreign exchange through arms exports. Therefore, in the face of China’s demand for aircraft purchases, the Soviet Union stated that there was no obstacle to the export of advanced fighter aircraft , and it could give China a discount as much as possible.
But what the Soviet Union wanted to sell at that time was not the Su-27, but another cutting-edge fighter, the MiG-29 . Although both Su-27 and MiG-29 were the latest fourth-generation fighters developed at that time, their combat purposes are completely different. The Su-27 is a heavy-duty air-control fighter, mainly responsible for homeland air defense and air superiority operations, while the MiG-29 is a medium-sized multi-purpose fighter that exists as a front-line fighter in the Soviet military system .
Objectively speaking, both the MiG 29 and the Su 27 have excellent air combat performance. The radar and airborne weapons of the two are also in the same era. However, the MiG 29 has a problem that cannot be ignored, that is, its range is extremely short. Its maximum range is only 1,500 kilometers, and the maximum effective combat radius is only 800 kilometers . It is understandable to use it as a front-line fighter like the Soviet army, but it is definitely not enough for homeland air defense.
As China is a large country with a vast territory, the MiG-29 simply cannot meet the requirements of national air defense , let alone fly out of the airspace to block foreign military forces that attempt to interfere in China’s internal affairs. Therefore, no matter how extravagantly the Soviet representative bragged about the MiG-29, the Chinese representative did not buy it. Instead, he asked to see the Su-27 fighter.
The Soviet Union failed, the flanker is still there
At that time, the Soviet Union actually did not intend to sell the Su-27 fighter. This fighter was officially installed in 1985. It was the latest equipment of the Soviet army and the highest technological achievement of the Soviet aviation manufacturing industry. China actually learned of the existence of this fighter through special channels , so when the Soviet Union heard China’s request, it was a little shocked.
At first, the Soviet representative was unwilling to sell the Su-27, but after pushing the cup and changing the cup that night, the Soviet Union suddenly changed its attitude. It is rumored that this was because the Soviet representative was overwhelmed by the Chinese representative at the wine table , and was in a daze. He agreed to sell the Su-27, and when he woke up the next day, he couldn’t change his words.
Of course, matters between countries will definitely not be decided over the wine table. In fact, the Soviet Union really valued this fighter jet deal at that time, but after all, it said before that the Su-27 would not be sold , in order to give itself a step up. Only then did we have the drinking party the night before yesterday.
As the Soviet Union officially released the export restrictions on the Su-27, China and the Soviet Union finally signed an export agreement for fighter jets at the end of 1990. The Su-27 purchased by China is exactly the same as the version used by the Soviet Union . In order to distinguish it, it was renamed Su-27SK , where K is the first letter of the Chinese word in Russian. The first batch of three Su-27SK fighters arrived in China in December 1991, and the Soviet Union completely disintegrated within a few days.
China was very worried at one time that the Russian government would deny the account of the Soviet Union’s fighter jet deal with China. Unexpectedly, Russia was still trustworthy and directly inherited the deal, and delivered the remaining 21 Su-27SK fighter jets to China one after another. In 1998, an agreement was signed to introduce the Su-27 production line . China bought not only the complete machine but also related manufacturing technology . This is why the US media said that the Su-27 fighter is an opportunity for China to catch up with the United States and surpass Russia.
The localization process of Su-27
Although it has the technology to manufacture advanced fighters, the foundation of China’s aviation industry is too weak, and it has encountered great difficulties in the process of localizing the Su-27 . The J-11A produced according to the original drawings is not as good as the complete machine produced in Russia in combat performance and reliability, and was even rejected by the Chinese Air Force for a time.
It was not until the advent of the J-11B that the domestically produced Su-27 was considered mature, embarking on a development path completely different from Russia and gradually overtaking it after the new century. Comparing the latest models of China and Russia on air superiority fighters and multi-purpose fighters, China’s improvements to the Su-27 are concentrated in airframe materials, radar avionics, and airborne weapons .
Take the J-11D , which has been converted into a technical reserve , as an example. The fuselage is made of a large number of composite materials, and the latest model of domestic active phased array radar and airborne equipment is replaced . The engine is also replaced by a domestic turbofan 10C from Russia. , Airborne weapons are upgraded to advanced air-to-air weapons such as PL10 and PL15.
On the other hand, compared with its benchmark Su-35S, except for its 117S engine and omni-directional vector nozzle, which is slightly ahead of the J-11D, it lags behind other core equipment by 5 to 10 years , especially in beyond-visual-range air combat capabilities and domestic fighters. China has also introduced 34 Su-35SK fighters, and the conclusion drawn through confrontation exercises is that the domestic fighters have achieved overtake.
In terms of multi-purpose fighters, the gap between China and Russia is similar to that of air superiority fighters. The J-16 is much stronger than the Su-30SM2 in terms of core combat capabilities such as multi-purpose and over-the-horizon combat . It also uses a large number of fifth-generation fighters J-20 The relevant technologies are also 5 to 10 years ahead of Russian-made fighters.
However, there is an old Chinese saying that the man who digs the well is not forgotten when drinking water . China’s fighter jets can have today’s brilliant achievements. We really have to thank the Su-27, which opened the door to advanced fighter jets for China. It took root in China and became one of the best fighter families in the world.