A J-16 fighter climbs after takeoff. (Internet Photo)
Based on unofficial photographs circulating on the internet, China's naval air force has taken delivery of 24 J-16 fighters from the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, says a US-based military watcher, our sister newspaper Want Daily reports.
Strategy Page, a US-based military affairs website reports that China and Russia in 1999 worked together to upgrade the dual-seat Russian-made Su-30MKK fighters which gave rise to the Su-30MK2. At the same time, the PLA took delivery of nearly 100 Su-30MK2 jets directly from Russia to equip its air force and navy. The Su-30MK2, a 34-tonne fighter-bomber, fills a very similar role to the F-15E Strike Eagle in the US Air Force. Currently, the PLA Naval Air Force operates 24 Su-30MK2 fighters. With mid-air refueling ability, the aircraft could be used to project force in the disputed South China Sea.
Using the Su-30MK2 as its blueprint, China hopes to make its J-16 the fulcrum of its naval fighter force. According to Strategy Page, this is one of many examples of China reverse engineering Russian technology. The Russian Su-27, for example, was redesigned by Chinese engineers as the J-11 fighter and brought into service despite Russian warnings and protests. By acquiring a Su-33 prototype from Ukraine, China also designed its first carrier-based fighter, the J-15.
Chinese engineers also developed the J-17 on the back of the Su-27 design, but with a stealthier fighter. Without the ability to design its own fighter engine, China still had to import two Russian engines, the AL-31 and RD-93 for its copied aircraft.
Late last year, after several years of negotiations, Russia finally agreed to sell 48 Su-35MB fighters to the PLA. In explaining the protracted negotiations, Moscow said it was trying to ensure safeguards against Beijing once again stealing its technology. The Chinese negotiators reportedly refused to sign a binding agreement not to copy the Russian design. Beijing eventually agreed to Moscow's terms as it hopes to obtain the advanced fighters as soon as possible. It remains to be seen how enforceable the contract terms will be should Russian technology turn up in future PLA hardware.