Russia Admits China Illegally Copied Its Fighter
By Wendell Minnick
BANGALORE, India - After years of denial, a Russian defense official conceded that China had produced its own "fake" version of the Su-27SK fighter jet in violation of intellectual property agreements.
"We are in discussions with China on this issue," said Mikhail Pogosyan, first vice president on program coordination, Russian Aircraft Corp., during a press conference here at the Aero India trade show.
In 1995, China secured a production license to build 200 Su-27SKs, dubbed J-11A, for $2.5 billion for the Shenyang Aircraft Corp. The deal required the aircraft to be outfitted with Russian avionics, radars and engines. Russia cancelled the arrangement at 95 aircraft in 2006 after it discovered that China was developing an indigenous version, J-11B, with Chinese avionics and systems.
China produced six J-11B fighters for testing, but despite efforts to produce a suitable replacement for the Russian engine, the new fighter was outfitted with the same AL-31F, said Andrei Chang, a China military specialist at the Kanwa Defense Center. One J-11A was outfitted with the indigenously-built WS10A Tai Hang turbofan engine, but the J-11Bs are still using Russian AL-31Fs due to technical difficulties, Chang said.
Pogosyan and Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov traveled to Beijing in December to attend the 13th session of a Chinese-Russian joint commission on military and technical cooperation and apply pressure to Chinese officials. Ultimately, China agreed to protect intellectual property rights and stop illegally copying Russian military equipment.
"I think this was a big step to make this issue more transparent and more precise in our future discussions," said Pogosyan, who also serves as the general director of Sukhoi.
Russia fears that China would mass-produce cheaper export versions of the Su-27 for the international market, and China feared that Russia would cancel future orders for advanced arms, such as the Su-33 combat jet for China's aircraft carrier program, Chang said. Chinese violations of the end-user agreement would be particularly upsetting to Russia's long-time strategic partner India, if Pakistan buys the Chinese-built Su-27 version.
However, Pogosyan downplayed the quality of the Chinese effort, saying a copy of a copy would not be a good aircraft.
"If we speak about the copy of the airplanes, I think that in this case, the original will always be better than a slightly modified copy," he said. "The original made by the designer who developed the product is always better, and it is a better start for a new program with the original designer and developer than making a fake copy."
He said buying copies makes it difficult to overcome problems occurring during the lifetime of the aircraft, while the original developer knows from experience how to deal with these issues.
Chang does not believe China will honor the intellectual property agreement, or any agreement with Russia, and will continue to develop the J-11B as a totally indigenous aircraft. However, China will move cautiously until it secures deals for the Su-33 carrier-based fighter. China is beginning to build its first aircraft carrier and needs Russian technology and experience, Chang said.