Asian arms race: Russia sells its Su-35 ‘Flanker’ to China, Indonesia
ASIA’S military balance is about to be updended, with Russia agreeing to sell its most advanced Su-35 ‘Flanker’ combat jet to China and Indonesia.Extreme machine ... An Su-35 puts on a performance at the Paris air show. [AFP]
Indonesia, long a regional power, has been seeking a replacement for its antique US F-5 Tiger II fighters. General Agus Supriatnahas told Indonesian media he has signed a deal to buy 12 of the new Russian air superiority fighters instead of US F-16 Fighting Falcons because “the aircraft have more modern technology”.
China has been seeking to secure the new fighter for several years. It needs its advanced capabilities to enforce control over the East and South China Seas.
Now, Russia’s United Aircraft Corp has announced a $US2 billion deal to hand over 24 of the extraordinarily manoeuvrable and technologically advanced aircraft will be signed by the end of this year.
It’s taken several years to get this far. In the past, Russia has been wary of Chinese approaches to buy small numbers of the Su-35 ‘Flanker’.
Previously China has bought handfuls of aircraft such as the Su-27, stripped them down and reverse-engineered their technology. The outcome has been large numbers of domestically produced ‘rip-offs’ such as the J-11D fighter.
Russia, feeling jilted, has been hesitating about handing over its new Su-35.
Increasingly isolated over events in Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, Russia needs friends. And cash.
So it appears to have stepped back from its insistence that China must buy a minimum 48 of the multi-role combat jet.
It now appears ready to sellout its secrets for just 24.
Russia, while dwarfed by China’s economic might, retains a significant technological edge.
The Su-35 comes packed with its latest advances: The Irbis-E passive electronically scanned radar array and its Saturn AL-117S supercruise-capable engines.
Both offer China a significant leapfrog in its ability to counter the US-built aircraft fielded by many military forces operating in Asia.
The radar has the potential to see-through the West’s stealth technology, negating the sole practical advantage of vulnerable aircraft such as the B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber and F-35 “Lightning II” strike fighter.
The engine, combined with the Su-35’s size, give it the ability to roam over large distances and to linger over sensitive locations in order to enforce China’s claims. Most Western aircraft, such as the F/A-18 and F-35, can only do this with the support of vulnerable, slow tanker aircraft.
Such a fighter would give China the clear edge over expanses such as the South and East China Seas. US aircraft carriers, for example, would have to move dangerously close to mainland China in order for their short-range aircraft to be effective.
It can also react quickly: It has a top speed of 2390km/h. The F/A-18 ‘Super Hornet’ can go 1915km/h. The F-35C reportedly pushes 1930km/h.
Backing all this up is the Su-35’s ability to sustain more than the force of nine gravities while manoeuvring, as well as being able to flick its nose in almost any direction. While the art of dogfighting may have had its day, this ability does offer the Su-35 another key advantage over its Western counterparts: It can theoretically dodge incoming missiles.