Late last year it was reported that Moscow and Beijing had finally struck the long-negotiated deal for the purchase of Russia’s advanced Su-35 fighter jets.
The announcement raised eyebrows because the reported deal was for 24 planes only. This was interpreted as a defeat for Russia and a win for China. Supposedly Russia — fully expecting that China would set to copy the planes as soon as it got them — wanted Beijing to purchase at least 48 of the machines.
In this way China would receive primers of all the most recent Russian aviation technology for just $2 billion.
A Russian expert explained to The National Interest this isn’t quite so:
“We have export version and a version for our own use,” Buzhinsky said. “The Chinese are very good at copying all kinds of stuff.”
Nonetheless, Russia is confident that its technology will be safe in Chinese hands—particularly the all-important Saturn AL-41F1S engine. “They cannot produce engines,” Buzhinsky said.
“We agreed to supply engines for the Su-35, but fortunately—my technical colleagues told me—that it is practically impossible to copy that engine because it is practically impossible just to reach the heart of the engine without breaking it completely.”
The Su-35 planes Russia would deliver China are downgraded, export versions stripped of what Russians consider their most precious technologies.
This is probably for the best. Russians won’t fear their most advanced technologies are being copied and the Chinese won’t get acused of something they might not even be doing.