I am generally a happy man, but there is one thing in life that leaves me confused and angry: I can’t get my head around all the different Chinese Flankers (I refuse to put that word in inverted commas). Please please could you explain the differences, without drowning me in details?
Jeffrey Bainbridge, Luton
OK Jeffrey, no problem. I will do my best. Where I fail, better informed readers will gently correct me in the comments section.
So, first of all we have the Shenyang J-11.
The J-11 was just a Russian Su-27SK provided as a kit and assembled in China (China also got a batch of Russian-built Su-27SKs). The J-11B is a Chinese-made version with indigenous engines, avionics and a lighter composite airframe. Importantly, the J-11B can deliver smart bombs.
So pretty good then?
Yes, probably is. It also added a glass cockpit. It has some good weapons too, the PL-12 is analogous to the AMRAAM- and the US Navy, for one, is terrified of it. The Chinese WS-10 engines were initially shit though- and the aircraft had to be refitted with Russian AL-31Fs, but they’ve since sorted the ’10 and they’ve gone back to it.
Think crap Su-35.
Wait, so early Flankers didn’t have glass cockpits?
I know, pretty lame right? The Russians lagged behind the West with glass cockpits. The original Su-27 cockpit was jokes.
Is the J-11 a ‘pirate’ copy?
It’s complicated. The Russian did give them a licence to build some on the condition that they had Russian-built engines and avionics, but the J-11B broke that agreement and is a pirate (it’s 90% Chinese so doesn’t benefit Russia much). Initially Russian aircraft manufacturers were vocally pissed off, but now (realising they can’t do anything about it) they say it’s all fine, though they do have a vested interest in selling them more stuff. Intellectual property rights have only been around in China since 1979, and the attitude of both Communism and China to the protection of ideas/things is a different one to the West (to be fair Russia is also pretty laissez-faire on this matter). The Chinese aren’t allowed to export J-11s, an agreement they have honoured.
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The Chinese thought the early Su-27SK and J-11 radar (the N001) was pretty rubbish. There was a big argument about upgrading (the Russians dragged there heels) and eventually it was upgraded to N001VE (for the J-11A) standard (kinda like an early F-15 radar). The J-11B got the Chinese Type 1474 set which is far better, and is now being tested with an AESA.
My head is starting to hurt. What else is in the J-11B family?
Before we get to that you must know that they also bought a combat capable two-seater called the Su-27UBK.
OK, that I can deal with. So now can we go back to the other J-11 variants?
No, because we need to know about the Russian-built, Russian-equipped Su-35.
So what’s that?
A Russian-made top of the range ‘Super Flanker’. Chinese has bought 24, probably just so they can filch the technology.
Super eh? So that’s the best Flanker of all?
In some ways. But it has a PESA radar. AESA is what everyone wants, and the Chinese already have it on their J-11Ds (more on this later). So in terms of radar technology it’s not the best. In most other respects – notably its fly-by-wire system, integrated avionics and use of composite materials- it probably is.
Can you stop teasing me about the J-11 family now?
OK. We have:
- J-11BS – A twin-seat version of the J-11B.
- J-11BH – Naval (but not carrier compatible) version of the J-11B.
- J-11BSH – Naval version of the J-11BS.
Hey, are you just stealing this bit from Wikipedia?
I’ve got a friend coming ’round soon and I’m getting bored of your questions.
Alright, tell me quickly what the other ones are…
Carrier-based version based on the J-11B, that also has some bits nicked from the Su-33 design. Mercifully easy to identify as it has canard foreplanes and lives on carriers.
Wait, why haven’t you mentioned the Su-30s yet?
Jeez, be patient, I was going to explain. The Su-30 is a two-seat fighter-bomber. It’s heavier than an old Flanker and more versatile. It can carry a whole bunch of horribly effective air-to-ground weapons. China has the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2. They have the longest range radar of any Chinese Flankers- the Zhuk-MS. As you can expect the Chinese ripped off this design to produce a variant they called the J-16 (though some claim it is based on the J-11BS)
Did you mention a J-11D? Yes I did. This is the probably the most badass of all. It has AESA, reduced conspicuity to radar, and new electronic warfare systems, but it isn’t yet in frontline service.
You failed, my head still hurts.
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