(From the National Interest)
By Dave Majumdar
China’s Shengyang J-11 unlicensed derivative of the Russian-developed Su-27 Flanker has become the mainstay of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). While the Chinese-built jets are not able to match U.S.-built fighters one-for-one, China is building a lot of them. Down the road, advanced derivatives of the J-11 might become every bit as capable as the most advanced versions of American and allied fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 or F-16. Even fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters might be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Chinese jets and the problems associated with the lack of bases in the Western Pacific.
What Makes The J-11 Special:
There have been many iterations of the J-11. Those range from the original license-built models to the “indigenously” produced A-model to the upgraded B/BS-model, which uses a host of Chinese upgrades and avionics hardware. China continues to develop other versions of the J-11 including the advanced J-15, which is designed to operate off China’s lone aircraft carrier Liaoning,which was purchased incomplete as a derelict from the Nikolayev shipyards in Crimea. Shengyang was aided in the development of the J-15 through the purchase of a Su-33 Flanker prototype from Ukraine.
The J-15, however, was more than just a reverse engineered copy of the original Russian Flanker design. The carrier-based aircraft is expected to feature a host of advanced avionics, including a phased array radar and new infrared search and track system. But while the carrier-variant has gotten a lot of attention, a parallel development that features many of the same advancements seems to be making headway.
The J-11D, which is currently in development, is arguably the most advanced land-based single-seat Chinese version of the Flanker. While it probably is not quite as potent as the Russian Su-35S, it is very comparable in a lot of respects. While almost all information concerning Chinese hardware is suspect, the new J-11D allegedly made its first flight sometime in April. The new variant is purportedly equipped with a new electronically scanned radar—possibly an active electronically scanned array (AESA). But China wouldn’t need the Su-35 if it had developed a working, producible AESA. That could be why China and Russia have been taking so long to work out a deal to buy the Su-35—the People’s Republic has reached a point where it doesn’t need the Russians as much as they used to.
The J-11D is also purported to use radar absorbent materials to help reduce the jet’s signature, possibly a new infrared search-and-track system (IRST) and revamped electronic warfare systems. It also allegedly features an improved version of China’s WS-10 jet engine—but the Chinese have had a lot of difficulties with producing a reliable motor for their aircraft. One reason China is interested in the Su-35 is because of that plane’s engines. Read more