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Russia: No Deal on Sale of Fighters, Subs to China

Mar. 25, 2013 - 12:41PM   |  
By Wendell Minnick   |   Comments
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TAIPEI — Russia is denying Chinese media claims that Moscow and Beijing have signed agreements to sell Russian-made arms and military technology to China, including 24 Su-35 multirole fighter jets and four Amur-class diesel submarines.

During a recent visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow from Friday to Sunday, no discussions took place regarding “military-technical cooperation” issues, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported Monday. This was in response to an earlier report by China’s CCTV on the same day.

“The Kremlin is officially denying even discussing arms trade during Xi’s visit,” said Vasiliy Kashin, a China military specialist at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST). “In Russia-China relations, specific arms trade contracts are almost never discussed by the top leaders, just the general approaches.”

Another defense industry source in Russia said there are strong reservations about going forward on the memorandum of understanding signed in December to explore the sale of the twin-engine Su-35s and Amur submarines to China.

China intentionally violated intellectual property right (IPR) agreements when it copied and manufactured Russia’s Su-27 fighter as the J-11B, according to Russia.

In 1995, China secured a production deal with Russia to build 200 Su-27SKs, dubbed the J-11A, for $2.5 billion for the Shenyang Aircraft Corp. In 2006, Russia canceled the deal after 95 aircraft when it discovered China had reverse-engineered the fighter and was secretly manufacturing an indigenous copy, the J-11B, with Chinese-made avionics and engines.

There are strong suspicions China will procure the technological know-how of the Su-35 and Amur and simply produce an indigenous version.

But not all agree. Gary Li, a senior analyst at London-based IHS Fairplay, said China’s research and development have moved forward.

“It no longer will seek to directly reverse engineer everything it buys, but maybe adopt parts of the platform for other projects [and] integrate into domestic designs,” he said.

There also are concerns China wants access to the Su-35’s Saturn AL-117S engine, which is outfitted on the T-50, a prototype of Russia’s fifth-generation Sukhoi PAK FA stealth fighter.

However, Kashin said the risks of selling the Russian engine to China are negligible.

“An engine cannot be copied by obtaining a sample,” he said.

Li said he could envision Chinese aerospace engineers studying the aircraft’s engine and thrust-vectoring for future inclusion, as well as the Amur sub’s air-independent propulsion, but it will still be more than a decade before China will stop having to order engines to replace “worn-out ones,” as it has been doing with the J-11 and J-10 fighters.

“It always takes a few years before they can make a domestic alternative,” Li said.

Kashin cautions that a Chinese attempt to copy the Su-35, as they did with the Su-27, would be more difficult, “because this time, our Ukrainian ‘brothers’ cannot help them by selling the Chinese all the technology they lacked for a handful of dollars. I think the Amur situation will be generally the same.”

Ukraine has been accused of selling China former Soviet defense technologies, but it has no access to information regarding newer systems, such as the Su-35 and Amur.

“The Amur ultimately isn’t a strategic submarine, and as Russia’s interests in the Far East are not yet that ambitious, they can afford to sell them to China,” Li said. “How better to keep the U.S. pivot off their backs?”

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