Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 160

Recent reports from Moscow and Beijing indicate that Russia and China are very close to finalizing a deal whereby China would acquire as many as sixty potent Sukhoi Su-30 multirole combat aircraft. The sale has been in the works for at least four years but there still might be some details to work out as the various reports disagree as to the numbers of aircraft involved and even to the configuration of the fighters themselves. The Su-30 is one of many recent variants of the venerable Su-27 fighter. With only a handful in the Russian Air Force, the plane has been aimed at the export market. India has ordered fifty while Indonesia had to back out of a purchase agreement when hit by the Asian financial crisis last year.

The Su-30 is a potent combat aircraft, but much depends on exactly what avionics and weapons systems the Russians will provide the Chinese–in other words, on just how much military technology they will be willing to hand over. The aerospace trade journal Aviation Week and Space Technology has reported, for example, that the version offered to the Chinese will not be equipped with the thrust-vectoring engines sold to India. It can be equipped with some very impressive weapons such as high-speed antiradiation missiles, supersonic antiship missiles, the latest air-to-air missiles as well as a wide range of conventional bombs and rockets. At a minimum it will provide the Chinese with a modern long-range strike capability they presently lack.

As impressive as the Su-30 might be, the Russian Air Force is looking much farther into the future. This plane represents what some have called the “fourth and a half” generation of combat fighters. The Russians must develop a fifth generation fighter to match the American F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter. With the Defense Ministry unable to adequately finance the necessary research and development, a multibillion dollar Chinese deal is a godsend (Russian and international media, August 5-29).


[Note: The Monitor continues the series of candidates’ profiles in the context of Ukraine’s presidential election. See the profiles in the Monitor, July 30, August 6.]