Warplanes: China And The Clone Wars

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November 11, 2016: In mid-2016 pictures from China showed six new J-16 fighter-bombers awaiting delivery and confirmed earlier reports that production of the J-16 was finally speeding up. This aircraft first entered service in 2012 but few were seen in use. The J-16 is a copy of the Russian Su-30MK2 but China claimed the J-16 was a Chinese design. As more unauthorized pictures of the J-16 showed up, via Chinese with cell phone cameras and Internet access it became pretty clear that the J-16 was indeed a copy of the Su-30MK2 and that China was having a difficult time making the copy work as well as the original.

Russia and China jointly developed the two seat version of the Su-30, as the Su-30MKK, in the late 1990s. By 2002 an upgraded version (the Su-30MK2) showed up. By 2012 China had received about a hundred legal Su-30MK2s but then the nearly identical J-16s showed up. China said the J-16 was a development of the J-11. But the J-11 was an illegal copy of the Russian Su-27. The Russians were not amused.

This kind of blatant technology theft is nothing new. The Chinese J-11 jet fighter is widely acknowledged to be an illegal Chinese copy of the Russian Su-27. This plagiarism has been a source of friction between Russia and China for nearly a decade. It all began, legally, in 1995, when China paid $2.5 billion for the right to build 200 Su-27s. Russia would supply engines and electronics, with China building the other components according to Russian plans and specifications. But after 95 of the Chinese built aircraft were completed, Russia cancelled the agreement. They claimed that China was using the knowledge acquired with this Su-27 program to build their own copy of the Su-27, the J-11. Russia kept the piracy issue quiet for as long as it could and warned the Chinese that simply copying Russian technology would produce an inferior aircraft. Apparently the Chinese did not agree and are continuing their work on the J-11, using only, what they claim is, Chinese technology.

The J-11 is believed to now include better electronics and some other Chinese design modifications. China can manufacture most of the components of the J-11, the one major element it must import are the engines. China believes it will be free from dependence on Russia for military jet engines sometime in the 2020s. Currently, China imports two Russian engines, the $3.5 million AL-31 (for the Su-27/30, J-11, J-10) and the $2.5 million RD-93 (a version of the MiG-29s RD-33) for the JF-17 (a F-16 type aircraft developed in cooperation with Pakistan). Despite the ongoing technology theft dispute Russia still sells jet engines to China for its illegal copies of Russian aircraft. China agreed, in 2008, to stop stealing Russian military tech but went on to ignore that agreement and deny that it had reneged on its promise to stop the tech theft.

The Su-30MK2 is a 34 ton fighter-bomber similar to the American F-15E. The Su-30MK2 can carry 8 tons of smart bombs and missiles. It can be refueled in the air and is equipped to operate over land and open water. The Chinese Navy is operating 24 Su-30MK2s as well as some of the J-16s that have already been built.

 


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