Russia urges China to bail out Su-57 (PAK-FA) project

A Su-57s engine malfunction during factory trials.

The Janes reported last years citing Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval that Indian Air Force is pulling out of 11 years old collaboration of a Fifth-gen fighter jet with Russia. The Indian Air Force always questions the technological capabilities of Su-57 or PAK FA fighter jets especially stealth capability.

Read More Russian pilot Alexei who crashed Su-57, previously crashed one Su-30, one MiG-29 and two Mi-8 helicopters reports RIA Novosti

Senior Indian officials, including National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra, recently informed a visiting Russian ministerial delegation that India was withdrawing from the program, official sources told Jane’s on 20 April 2019.

The financial constraint and slow economic growth of Russia prompted less defense development by Russian military. Chief economist of BCS Global Markets Vladimir Tikhomirov stated that Russian gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the first three months of the year was just 0.5 percent year-on-year, a figure well below even the most cautious forecasts- foreign direct investment (FDI) has fallen to next to nothing.

Read More The Russian Su-57 is not ready to fly, says Russian defense expert

Consequentially, Russian military has to cancel many projects including development of an Aircraft Carrier, Amphibious Assault Ship, Missile Cruiser, Corvette, Zhuk-AME radar, T-14 Armata and Su-57 projects. The Russian military rebooted the Su-57 project, but resulted with setback after setback during factory trial and fell short of safety and reliability expectations.

Russian Rostec made several fruitless attempts to export Su-57E to Turkey, Vietnam, Myanmar and Algeria. Recently, Turkey rejected the Su-57 in favor of domestic TF-X program. The Rostec made further attempt this year to sale Su-57E to India which produced no results yet—India moved on to develop its domestic fifth-generation fighter jet with the help of French, Israeli, American and British counterparts.

The IAF believes that the Sukhoi Su-57 (T-50 PAK-FA) fighter, which India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) designated the Perspective Multi-Role Fighter, does not meet its requirements for stealth, combat avionics, radars and sensors. Seven FGFA prototypes are currently undergoing flight-testing in Russia, but for now, there is no indication as to when the platform is likely to enter series production.

Read More Declassified Patent of Su-57: Not A Stealth Fighter Jet

Although, Russian offered transfer of Zhuk radar technology to India, the Indian Air Force knocked back ideas of procuring MiG-35 and Su-35. India opt-in for more advanced European and American-made aircraft.

Under current circumstances, Rostec’s only hope that China could pump-in cash and bail out the the Su-57E (NATO Code Name Felon). For a long time the question seemed absurd, given China’s progress on the J-20 fighter is in full-rate of production and long-term Russia’s concerns about China’s refusal to respect the intellectual property. But a new report in Jane’s suggests that Russia is at least open to exploring the possibility of selling the Su-57E fighter to the China with transfer of engine technology.

Read More India withdraws from FGFA or Su-57 (PAK FA) project

According to Viktor Kladov, an official at Rostec, “in the next two years [China] will make a decision to either procure additional Su-35s, build the Su-35 within China, or to buy a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. This could be another opportunity for the Su-57E.”

Although Russia’s concern of technology theft, financial constraints forced Russia to export Su-35 and S-400 to China. At the very least, the comments suggest that Russia is no longer overly concerned about the prospect of Chinese intellectual property theft.

This could be for several reasons; Russia may no longer believe that it has a technological lead over China worth protecting, or Russia may believe that the strength of the bilateral relationship will deter China, or Russia may simply think that the benefits of the sale outweigh the costs. Indeed, Episkopos suggests that Russia may see exporting the Su-57E as key to keeping the Russia military aviation industry and consequently the Russian air force solvent.

Read More Russia’s new “Stealth” Su-57 (T-50 PAK FA) jet exposed as a fraud by IAF–Russia cancelled the production of the Su-57 fighter jet

Why would China want the Felon? Currently, J-20 can carry less number of weaponry and constraints by the less capable domestically produced WS-10A engine. The Su-57 plugs the capability gap to carry more payloads externally and in return China gets the engine technology. Buying the plane would also help cement the defense relationship with Russia and outflank India, which loudly withdrew from the Felon project last year. And the Su-57E would give China long-term access to the expertise and know how in Russia’s military aviation industry, Sukhoi Design Bureau is the the only aviation industry, China could access.

No country in the world could provide more long-term support for the Su-57E than cash-rich China, which is probably why the Russians are eagerly exploring every avenue to exports Su-57E to China.

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