China claims its Su-27 Ultimate Flanker surpasses Russia’s

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From 1992 to 2015, military trade between China and Russia saw a significant uptick. During this period, an impressive 80% of the weapons and equipment imported by China’s People’s Liberation Army came from Russia—covering sea, land, and air capabilities. The total arms trade between the two nations surpassed a whopping $30 billion. 

Photo by Yuri Smityuk

As China’s top arms supplier, Russia’s exports didn’t just upgrade the PLA’s arsenal in record time. They also laid a strong groundwork for future research, development, and innovative progress within China’s domestic arms industry.

In the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia faced tough economic challenges and was in dire need of foreign exchange. Arms sales abroad turned into a crucial revenue stream. Meanwhile, China was undergoing significant reforms and urgently needed to modernize its national defense apparatus. 

Photo by Vitalyi Nevar

With the United States and other Western nations imposing sanctions and blockades on Chinese arms imports, Beijing had virtually one source left—Russia. 

Take a moment to consider the Chinese Air Force back then. While the United States and Western countries had already deployed a substantial number of third and fourth-generation aircraft, China relied heavily on older models like the J-6 and J-7. The Russian-made Su-27, which made quite an impression at the Paris Air Show, caught the immediate attention of the Chinese Air Force. After rigorous negotiations, China finally received the first batch of Su-27s from Russia in 1992.

Since that pivotal moment, the Chinese Air Force has evolved into one of the foremost air forces globally. During this time, despite Western pressure, Russia persisted and sold 76 Su-27s to Beijing, even including a technology transfer. This move accelerated China’s independent fighter development significantly. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Drawing from the technical prowess of the Su-27, and later incorporating more advanced Su-30 fighters, China has made remarkable strides in producing its own combat aircraft, such as the J-11 and J-16. Many Chinese experts now believe that while the Su-27 “Flanker” series has its roots in Russia, the most powerful iteration, the “Ultimate Flanker,” resides in China today.

The Chinese Su-27CM3 is outfitted with the AL-31F engine, identical to the one in the original Russian Su-27. This turbofan engine, developed by the Russian company Saturn, is renowned for its high thrust and reliability. 

Many local Chinese experts suggest that the indigenous Su-27CM3 features some modifications and enhancements to boost performance, fuel efficiency, and maintainability. These upgrades are typically designed to enhance the aircraft’s operational abilities and prolong its service life.

Photo credit: Twitter

In both the Su-27 and Su-27SM3, the AL-31F engine delivers a thrust of around 27,560 pounds-force [lbf] with an afterburner. This robust engine contributes significantly to the aircraft’s remarkable speed, agility, and overall combat prowess. 

China has made notable advancements with its Su-27SM3 fighter jets, particularly in avionics. They have incorporated cutting-edge avionics systems that enhance situational awareness and combat effectiveness. These improvements include advanced multi-function displays, digital flight control systems, and upgraded navigation systems. These enhancements provide pilots with superior control and more precise information during missions.

When it comes to armament, the Chinese Su-27SM3 boasts a versatile array of advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. It includes the PL-12 and PL-15 air-to-air missiles, celebrated for their impressive range and pinpoint accuracy. Additionally, this aircraft can be outfitted with cutting-edge precision-guided munitions, making it highly adaptable across various combat scenarios. 

Photo credit: RCAF / USAF

The radar systems on the Chinese Su-27SM3 have also seen significant upgrades. The original radar has been swapped out for an active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, which offers enhanced detection range, improved target tracking, and strong resistance to electronic countermeasures. This upgrade dramatically boosts the aircraft’s capability to detect and engage multiple targets at once.

These enhancements elevate the Chinese Su-27SM3 above the Russian Su-27, thanks to the integration of advanced technologies and systems. Improved avionics, sophisticated weaponry, and superior radar capabilities together provide a substantial edge in both air superiority and ground attack roles. This technological upgrade ensures that the Chinese variant can handle more complex missions with greater efficiency and effectiveness. 

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