Naval Air: China Steals The Abandoned Su-33


June 7, 2010:  For over five years, China has been developing a carrier version of the Russian Su-27, calling it the J-15. There is already a Russian version of this, called the Su-33. Russia refused to sell Su-33s to China, when it was noted that China was making illegal copies of the Su-27 (as the J-11), and did not want to place a big order for Su-33s, but only wanted two, for "evaluation." China eventually got a Su-33 from Ukraine, which inherited some when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The first prototypes of the J-15 have been under construction for two years, and the aircraft is believed to have taken its first flight in the last few months. The Russians are not happy with this development. Russian aviation experts have openly derided the J-15, casting doubt on the ability of Chinese engineers to replicate key features of the Su-33. That remains to be seen, as the Chinese have screwed up copying Russian military tech in the past. But the Chinese have a lot of experience stealing foreign tech, so the J-15 may well turn out to be at least as good as the Su-33. Meanwhile. Russia itself has stopped using the Su-33.

Late last year, the Russian Navy ordered 24 MiG-29Ks (for about $42 million each) to replace the Su-33s currently operating from the aircraft carrier Kuznetsov. It was two years ago that the carrier version of the Russian MiG-29, the MiG-29K, made its first flight, about fifteen years later than originally planned. India is buying 30-40 of these for use on at least two aircraft carriers. The Indians are already receiving the first sixteen. The reason for dropping the Su-33 is the order from India. It's cheaper to build 64 (or more, for planned Russian carriers) MiG-29Ks, than just 16 more Su-33s to replace the ones already on the Kuznetsov (and wearing out). The MiG-29Ks are lighter and cheaper than the Su-33s.

In the early 1990s, work began on creating a variant of the MiG-29 for carrier use. These were to be used on the Kuznetsov class carriers, originally conceived of as 90,000 ton, nuclear powered ships, similar to American carriers (complete with steam catapults). Instead, because of the cost, and the complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced to scale back their goals, and ended up with the 65,000 ton (full load) ships that lacked steam catapults, and used a ski jump type flight deck instead. Nuclear power was dropped, but the Kuznetsov class was still a formidable design. The thousand foot (322 meter) long carrier ended up carryings a dozen Su-33s, 14 Ka-27PL anti-submarine helicopters, two electronic warfare helicopters and two search and rescue helicopters. The ship was designed to carry up to 36 Su-33s and sixteen helicopters.

The 33 ton Su-33 is larger than the 21 ton MiG-29K, and both types of aircraft were to operate from the three 65,000 ton Kuznetsovs. But when the Cold War ended, only the Kuznetsov was near completion. The second ship in the class, the Varyag, was sold to China. The smaller Gorshkov is being rebuilt and sold to India (who believed the smaller MiG-29K was more suitable for this carrier.).

The MiG-29K modifications included arrestor gear and stronger landing gear for carrier landings, folding wings and rust proofing to reduce corrosion from all that salt water. Anti-radar paint is also used, to reduce the radar signature. Fuel capacity was increased 50 percent and more modern electronics installed. A more powerful engine is used, which enabled the aircraft to carry over five tons of weapons (air-to-air and anti-ship missiles, smart bombs).

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