Reports Denied: Russia has denied media reports that it is close to selling Su-35S fighters to China. Here, spectators view an Su-35 at the Paris Air Show last year. (Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)
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TAIPEI — Russian industry officials are denying media reports that Beijing and Moscow are finalizing a deal on the sale of advanced Russian fighters and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to China.
Widely reported by other media outlets, Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV announced that the head of Sukhoi, Mikhail Pogosyan, confirmed that a deal with China to procure Su-35S fighters and S-400 SAMs was close to concluding.
But Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) denies that Pogosyan discussed anything beyond the sale of commercial aircraft during his visit to China.
Maxim Syssoev, manager of UAC’s communications department, wrote in a news release that Pogosyan did not discuss the sale of the Su-35 with Chinese officials. However, UAC and China’s state-run Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China did sign a cooperation agreement to build wide-body long-range commercial airliners on May 20.
This does not mean that a deal on the multirole combat aircraft is dead, only that no agreement has been made, said Vasily Kashin, a researcher at the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
“As I understand, S-400 and Su-35 deals might be sped up because of the growing importance of strategic ties with China for Moscow after the Crimean crisis,” he said. However, “taking into account production cycles, the first S-400s are unlikely to reach China before 2016.”
Whether the sale goes forward today or next year, it will spell trouble for Taiwan and Japan’s efforts to defend the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The 400-kilometer range S-400 will allow China to strike any aircraft over Taiwan. This will give China effective control of Taiwan’s airspace during a war. At present, China’s 300-kilometer range S-300s can hit aircraft only in a small section of Taiwan’s northwest coastal area.
The S-400 will make it difficult for Tokyo to control the Senkaku’s airspace. The disputed islands are controlled by Japan, but also claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands are within 350 kilometers of China’s coast.
Taiwan is also facing a fighter shortage as older aircraft, such as the roughly 50 F-5s and 55 Mirage 2000s, begin retiring within the next 10 years. What remain are 126 upgraded indigenous defense fighters (IDFs) and 144 F-16A/B fighters. Taiwan has initiated an upgrade program for the F-16s, but still insists the US release 66 F-16C/D fighters on hold since 2006.
One response for Washington would be to sell Taiwan the “General Electric F404 or F414-class small turbofan engine that would allow Taiwan to develop its indigenous defense fighter into a very short take-off, supersonic climbing fighter,” said Richard Fisher, a senior fellow with the US-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. “With very high acceleration and climb, such a ‘Super IDF’ could develop tactics involving supersonic eastern egress to evade SAMs, gain altitude and then launch missiles down on attacking [Chinese] aircraft.”
China has an array of S-300 and HQ-9 air defense systems at its fingertips and the sale of the S-400 and technology to develop more advanced air defense systems will no doubt put the region on notice.
“This has long been expected and would be consistent with the practice of Almaz-Antey [S-300/400 manufacturer] to use foreign sales to assist the funding of their next-generation projects,” Fisher said.
“Almaz-Antey transferred S-300 technology to allow China to develop its HQ-9 family of fourth generation SAMs and it can be expected that in the future, they will sell S-400 technology to China to enable their next generation SAM as well,” he said.■