China Upgrades Russian-made Su-35 To Chinese Standard

Chinese military commentator Xi Yazhou revealed that in 2019’s air force exercise, China’s domestic J-10C fighter defeated imported Su-35 fighter in a BVR combat.

In respects of avionics, fire control radar and armaments performance, Su-35 jet’s passive phased array radar is completely suppressed by J-10C’s active electronically array radar. Su-35 fighter only has an advantage in the combat range, while in BVR combats, J-10C with PL-15 missile is superior to Su-35. It is said that these have been verified in a number of mock air battles.

In May 2018, one of the first Su-35 fighter batch delivered to China. This made China the first foreign customer to upgrade the Russian-made 4++ generation fighters. In 2019, China started modifying Su-35 with version of missiles and fire control and electronic systems. The modification included: to equip domestic long-range air-to-air missiles and new information helmets, to install more complex fire control and electronic systems. After the modification, the Chinese version of Su-35 far exceeded the original Russian version.

Although China Air Force’s new fighters are emerging one after another, many second-generation fighters remain. The successive retiring of these second-generation fighters resulted in a large number of equipment vacancies.

However, production capacity of domestic new fighters is limited and insufficient to meet the needs of PLA Air Force. China assumed Su-35 fighter is a mature product, and PLA Air Force is familiar with the use of the Sukhoi fighter, the purchase of Su-35 fighters can fill a long-range combat role.

Besides, many interesting features and components on Su-35 fighter attracted Chinese engineers, such as super-mobile flight capability, powerful combat capability on paper, some airborne equipment, and IRBIS-E passive phase array radar system, the new air-to-air missile with a range of 200 kilometers, and AL-41F1S engine most concerned by PLA Air Force, which is the transitional version of AL-31F engine to 117 series engine used by fourth-generation fighter Su-57.

However, according to China military’s point of view, this aircraft served ideally ten years ago. The modernization degree of Su-35 electronic warfare system is now unable to meet PLA’s expectations for Su-35 fighters.

As early as the negotiations about introduction of Su-35 fighter into China, Chinese team had requested to install a homemade electronic system for the aircraft to integrate into PLA’s Air Force combat system. The two sides had long and difficult negotiations. Before the delivery, a Russian expert wrote that as the replacement of electronic system would take too long test time and could not keep up with the delivery schedule, the final batch of Su-35 fighter to be delivered to China would be exactly the same as the Russian-owned equipment. In fact, the first four aircraft were originally produced for Russian Air Force.

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China Air Force is more concerned about the engine performance of Su-35 fighters. The maximum fuel capacity of Su-35 fighters is as high as 11 tons. Since Su-35 fighters entered PLA Air Force, its flight performance, especially the perfect combination of vector propulsion and flight control systems, has not been greatly appreciated by Chinese pilots.

The Chinese version of Su-35 aircraft uses the same cockpit display system as the Russian version. The Chinese finally gave up the requirements for Chinese display of data. The only difference is the integration of the Beidou navigation satellite system. On Su-27 and Su 30MKK fighters introduced in China in the early days, the display interface is also in Russian. On the other hand, it also shows that the Chinese side is not at ease with Russia’s translation quality. Russian interface can still be understood when it’s not translated, while no one would be able to understand it once it’s translated.

The latter two batches of 20 Su-35 fighters were alleged to have undergone some partial modifications, such as changing their navigation system to receive Beidou satellite navigation. It is said that it is also possible to use the new helmet sights of the PLA Air Force. But overall, its electronic system has not been greatly improved.

Since the introduction of Su-27 fighters in the last century, China has reverse engineered and developed its own multi-role fighters, such as J-11B, J-11BS, J-11D, J-15, J-16, J-16D jets. However, these aircrafts were developed on the basis of old Su-27 series fighters, while Su-35 fighter is the latest version of the Flankers based on Russia’s experience, with a lot of latest technologies applied, including phased array radar, new engine, vector thrust, internal structure optimization and aerodynamic improvement, which could be the best demonstrations for China’s domestically improved aircrafts. Therefore, the purchase of Su-35 fighters can promote improvement of China’s domestic “Flanker” fighters via its technical reverse engineering.

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