Import of Su-35 May Make China’s J-20 Matchless

Su-35. Image Credit: Alex Beltyukov/wikimedia commons

Su-35. Image Credit: Alex Beltyukov/wikimedia commons

China has concluded a deal to pay US$2 billion for 24 Su-35 from Russia, 2 of which will be delivered this year. That is really a very expensive transaction, but to achieve quick modernization, China is willing and can afford such excessive price.

Some people may look down on China and say that China is unable to develop high technology on its own and is forced to pay high prices to import high-tech weapons. Those who are proud of China would reply that China certainly shall buy technology from abroad as it lags so much behind world technological standards. What they are proud of is that China has abundant funds not only for its own development but also the purchase of high technology.

When a country faces the threat of the attack from the strongest military in the world, it has to buy high-tech weapons and high weapon technology at very high price to quicken the development of its high-tech defense while conduct research and development on its own. They are happy that China is more than able to afford such purchases so that China has been able to modernize its military so quickly.

As for whether it is worthwhile to pay so much for Su-35s, US media National Interest’s article “Why Russia’s Enemies Should Fear the Su-35 Fighter” seems to justify the deal.

The article says, “The Su-35 may be the best jet-age dogfighter ever made and a capable missile delivery platform—but whether that will suffice for an air-superiority fighter in the era of stealth technology remains to be seen.”

That means Su-35 may perhaps deal with US stealth fighter jets. That being the case, Su-35 will be very useful to deal with US non-stealth fighter jets for years as it takes time for the US to replace stealth fighter jets for non-stealth ones.

The article speculates that China may try to copy Su-35 through reverse engineering just as it has been doing in making J-11 that is copied from Su-27. However, it fails to see that J-11, though uses Su-27 technology, is better than Su-27 as it uses quite much China’s own technology.

The article mentioned Su-35’s AL-41F1S thrust-vectoring engines that provide Su-35 with such high speed and wonderful maneuverability. China wants to import the engine but Russia will not sell unless it is sold along with Su-35.

I have information that China’s WS-15 is as powerful as AL-41F1S but no information whether it is a thrust-vectoring one. Anyway, by reverse engineering, China can learn from Su-35’s engine to improve its WS-15 and make it even more powerful for its J-20 stealth fighter. J-20 will thus be matchless in the world in speed and maneuverability. That alone means the high price paid for Su-35 is negligible.

There are quite a few other things that China may learn from Su-35 and incorporate in its J-20. For example, its IRBIS-E passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar that according to the article, is “able to track up to thirty airborne targets with a Radar-cross section of three meters up to 250 miles away—and targets with cross-sections as small 0.1 meters over fifty miles away” and its “OLS-35 targeting system that includes an Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) system said to have a fifty-mile range—potentially a significant threat to stealth fighters.”

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on National Interest’s article “Why Russia’s Enemies Should Fear the Su-35 Fighter”, full text of which can be viewed at


3 Comments on “Import of Su-35 May Make China’s J-20 Matchless”

  1. Simon says:

    The J-16 is on par with the Su-35.


  2. Joseph says:

    As I recall, it was the Russian who insisted on the Su-34 sale as they need the sale much more than China. And China’s reluctance has dragged the sale for years. In the meantime, China’s J-20 programme has progressed without any dependence or even mere mention of the relevance of Su-34 and its AL-117 engine. After all it was Western media who always mention that China ‘could not’ build turbofan engine and that the J-20 programme ‘needs’ AL-117 engine. However, recent account has shown that China do not even need the AL-117 engine as the WS-15 is fully developed and performes just fine, unlike F-35 engines. Furthermore, the AL-117 is unlikely to be compatible to the stealth J-20 as Su-34 is not even stealth and is a lot lighter than the bulky J-20. By putting AL-117 into heavier J-20 will cause similar serious performance problem similar to F-35 with its F-16 engines. China of course do not give details of their success to Western media, as always. The purchase Su-34 is most likely an act of good faith. Now that China and Russia are allies against American hegemonic aggression, perhaps China feels the need to sustain and even revitalize Russian aircraft industry. After all, it is a well known fact that China and Russia often collaborate in their military research, much to the chagrin of the American.


  3. Steve says:

    According to the China Arms report last December, 2015, “China ‘s thrust vectoring engine makes breakthrough to help J-20 and J-31 fighters. China has succeeded on a new coating for a new type thrust vectoring nozzle and made great achievements. The special coating lasted over 216 hours without significant wearing. Acquiring the Russian 117s (AL-41F1S) is an icing on the cake. It would be good to get a comparison between the WS-15 and 117s engines. I would expect the J-31 to be using China’s home grown new thrust vectoring engines at the November
    Zhuhai Air Show. In fact most the J’s 10, 11, 15 and 31 should be using China’s own homegrown engines