There has been several articles recently critiquing J-11B. I thought I’d take the time to debunk some of the theories on them.

The first one comes from a Russian newspaper

A copy of the Su-27 fighter has recently been assembled in China, but the mass production is not yet started, the Vesti newspaper reports. If China manages to launch production of the Russian jet in series they may become a Russian competitor at third-party markets and it will be difficult to prove the violation of copyright.

Since 1992 Russia has sold China 76 Su-27SK fighters and a license for production of another 200 aircrafts that have been produced in Shenyang as J-11 planes with the use of Russian components since 1996.

Richard Fisher, expert of the US Center for Security Policy said in 2003 the fully Chinese J-11 was being elaborated in China that would require ten years. But China finished the work faster. “The progress in jets manufacturing technology let increase the share of China produced components and technologies from 70-75% to more than 90%,”- the Rosoboronexport (Russian arms exporting agency) plenipotentiary in China Andrei Plotnikov reported in the magazine Problems of the Far East. The work over the domestic Tai Hang WS-10 jet similar to the Russian AL-31F was completed by the AVIC I holding in 2006.

Rosoboronexport refuses to comment on the situation. The fact of copying Su-27 was also rejected in the Chinese Embassy in Russia and PRC State Defense Science and Industry Commission, the Vedomosti newspaper reports.

Konstantin Makiyenko from the Russian Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies says that Su-27 and its variant Su-30 are the base of the Russia’s arms export. Last year’s sale of fighter jets and equipment gave about 50% of the Rosoboronexport’s exports revenues. If China manages to launch production of the Russian jet in series it will easily push Russia from third-party markets, and it will be difficult to prove the violation of copyright.

China has been producing licensed and non-licensed copies of the Soviet aircrafts for a long time. The Chinese J-6 and J-7 fighters were designed after MiG-19 and MiG-21, H-6 bomber – after Tu-16 Badger, and Y-5, Y-7 and Y-8 – after An-2 Colt, An-24 Coke and An-12 Cub, respectively

I think the fear here is that China will start to produce its own flankers and somehow overtake the Russians in the arms export market. However, there is no indication at the moment that China is willing to export it or has the production capacity to produce for domestic + export needs. I’ve read numerous questions about whether or not J-11B would be exported to Pakistan. Frankly, it’s not going to happen for the above reasons. As for the violation of copy right, I don’t think that will ever be an issue, since I don’t think they will be exporting any. However, the Russians will be feeling pain on this situation, because China will no longer be paying it royalty or buying parts from it. As for the comment about China needing 10 years to clone flankers, it shows a slight mis-comprehension of the entire situation. If China needs to wait until 2013 to clone J-11B, then why bother? If needs 10 years to clone a fighter, why not just design a brand new fighter?

Anyhow, the more interesting article came from our friend Andrei Chang/Pinkov.

HONG KONG, China, Based on the design of the Russian Sukhoi Su-27SK fighter, China has come up with its own domestic version, the J-11B multi-function fighter. Three J-11B prototypes have been manufactured since 2006. After their factory flight tests, they have been evaluated by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force 1st Fighter Division, based in Anshan in China’s northeast Liaoning province.
A Chinese military industry source has confirmed that pre-production of the fighters will begin this year. “We will not need to assemble more Su-27SKs, because it is old technology given from Russia,” the source said.

The J-11B has undergone drastic changes from the original Russian design. A source from the Chinese aerospace industry says that except for the Russian-made engines, 90 percent of the major subsystems fitted on the J-11B, including the radar and optical electronic systems, are made by China. The Chinese aviation company AVIC 1 has already completed testing the 1474 serial radar system to be deployed in the J-11B. The fighter’s weapons will also integrate indigenous systems.

A Chinese pilot with more than 20 years of flight experience expressed his high opinion of the Su-27 fighter, describing it as “very easy to fly.”

However, as the source from the Chinese military industry points out, some of the parts used on the Su-27SK have a very short lifespan, which has led to a high rate of technical accidents. For instance, frequent problems with the fighter’s infrared search and track system have restricted its use in the regular training of combat forces.

To investigate this issue, the author paid a special visit to the Ural Optical and Mechanical Complex in Ekaterinburg, Russia. A Russian source revealed that the company had signed two contracts with a Chinese company to supply parts for an updated IRST system, the OLS-31E. Execution of the contract, valued at US$1 million, began in 2007.

Research and development of the China-made IRST system to be fitted on the J-11B fighters is already completed. The physical appearance of this new IRST is very close to the original Russian OLS-31E, making it appear to be an imitation edition of the Russian system with some upgrades. In fact, the overall performance of the J-11B is now on a par with the Russian-edition Su-27SMK.

The J-11B’s fire control radar system uses mechanical scanning, integrates more functions and features a modular design. The fighter also features substantial changes in the fire control system and the cockpit so the J-11B will be able to fire China’s indigenous PL-12 air-to-air missiles and a whole series of other precision-guided weapons. The cockpit has three large color multifunctional displays and two small color multifunctional displays.

In recent years, China’s pace of development in airborne equipment has been very fast. The design of its J-10B cockpit has been quite precocious; the rear cockpit seems to have four multifunctional color displays and two small multifunctional displays.

In addition, the J-11B will be fitted with China’s indigenous strapdown inertial navigation system, 3-axix data system, power supply system, emergency power unit, brake system, hydraulic system, fuel system, environment control system and molecular sieve oxygen generation systems.

The fact that China is producing a large proportion of the J-11B parts domestically indicates that its demand for parts imported from Russia will decline dramatically during the second phase of the fighter’s production. Also, some of the subsystems and equipment are compatible with those used in the J-10A and J-10B fighters.

It is expected that the J-11B’s flight control system will also be manufactured in China. This was the leading reason why Russia could not determine whether China would continue to produce Su-27SK fighters in the next phase. In reality, the joint contract between Russia and China for the Su-27SK/J-11 development has now been virtually abandoned by the Chinese side without any consultation with Russia.

The first thing that jumped out to me is the part about 3 J-11B prototypes manufactured since 2006. Well, the truth is that J-11B was seen testing in CFTE in all of 2006. In fact, there were probably at least that number before 2007. And the second part is that we saw J-11B appearing in the first division air base recently. That + a host of AVIC1 articles tell us that J-11B is now joining service finally. Also, Pinkov often maintain this theory that J-11B uses Russian engine based on the recent 180 engine order. But as I’ve always maintained, that set of engines are to service the existing fleet of flankers. As we know, AL-31F’s service life is really nothing to talk about, so it’s logical that they would seek replacements at this time. As far as we know, J-11B is using WS-10A now and will be doing so for the future. We’ve had a plethora of articles recently talking about the success of the WS-10A project including a ramp up on production (to possibly 100 in 2008), so that’s more than enough to cover J-11B + large number of J-10 for this coming year.

The other theory that Pinkov has is that J-11B is on par with su-27SMK and not on the same level as su-35. I have mentionned in past articles on why saying J-11B is inferior to su-35 is a really bad way to look at things. The reality is that something like su-27SMK simply cannot match the requirement of PLAAF, when the much cheaper J-10 is far superior in air combat than it. In terms of radar, avionics, T/W ratio, ability to fire Chinese weapons, su-27SMK simply doesn’t match up with J-11B. And with the results coming out regarding J-10 vs MKK, I really don’t think having something of the same level as MKK would impress any of the top brass in PLAAF.

Also on su-35, I really hope that nobody in PLAAF is delusional enough to think that it has a chance against F-22. If something like that starts to get inducted in 2012 (and that’s a very optimistic estimation), PLAAF will simply be overpaying for another fighter that cannot match up against F-22/35 in a possible confrontation.