China has pretty much made a reputation for copying products, be it gadgets or shoes, maybe clothing. If you made it, you bet they could recreate it. This might have something to do with culture, adopting ideas from others rather than being innovative in a society that punished initiative and independent thinking. We see the action as cheating, they see it as a grudging sort of compliment, by the looks of it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but to what extent?

Sukhoi Su-27

The Sukhoi Su-27 is a twin-engine supermaneuverable fighter aircraft designed by the JSC Sukhoi Company. It was made to complete the United States’ fourth-generation fighters with 1,910 nautical mile range, top-of-the-line avionics, ordnance, and high maneuverability like the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. The Su-27 and its subsequent variants managed to perform all manner of aerial maneuvers quite beautifully at airshows where it has appeared.


Sukhoi Su-27. (Jakub HałunCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1985, it entered service with the Soviet Air Forces as a long-range air defense against the Boeing B-52, SAC Rockwell B-1B Lancer, and H Stratofortress bombers.

From Su-27, other incrementally improved aircraft were made, like the Su-30, a dual-role fighter, air-to-air and air-to-surface deep interdiction missions, and the Su-33, that’s meant to be operated from aircraft carriers and works as a naval fleet defense interceptor. Su-34, a side-by-side two-seat fighter-bomber variant, and the Su-35, an improved air superiority fighter.

China Entered into the Scene

Su-27’s exportation to China all began when in May 1989, Gorbachev visited China to discuss reopening the Sino-Soviet military trade. In May 1990, a Chinese delegate visited the Soviet Union to talk about the acquisition of advanced aircraft. So he was shown the demonstration of the MiG-29 and the Su-27, as well as various helicopters.

The Soviets pushed the MiG-29 onto the Chinese delegation, highlighting the long history of Chinese adoption and adaptions of MiG. However, the delegate’s eyes were already fixated on the Su-27 that would be perfect to use as the “base” of the future Chinese tactical aircraft.

Russia didn’t really want to give China the Su-27, but its economic issues didn’t give them much choice but to agree to the procurement. As per their 1990 negotiations, an agreement was signed, and China purchased 24 Su-27SK and Su-27UBK fighters. The Soviet Union had already collapsed, but President Boris Yeltsin honored the arrangement, and so the first Su-27s were delivered to China on June 27, 1992.

Sukhoi – Su-27SK. (Image from

Aware of the economic crisis that Russia was in at that time, China pushed for the technology transfer of the Su-27s, full production line in the agreement. They achieved this in 1995. They began the licensed production of the Su-27 as J-11. The strategy worked, and soon, they created other versions of the J-11, like the J-11B AESA radars with Chinese-made glass cockpits and engines as the J-16D, which was their attempt to make an Electronic Warfare aircraft.


The J-11B variant is an upgrade of the J-11. Although the details on which parts were improved remain a secret, suggestions were that advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar could have been integrated in place of the previous pulse-doppler one. It also incorporates Chinese avionics, removing the J-11’s dependency on Russia for these. By 2011, it was reported that about 90% of the J-11B were subsystems and parts from China, many of which were improvements from the Su-27SK.

As per an article written by The Eurasian Times,

Chinese subsystems on the J-11B include Type 1474 radar, 3-axis data system, power supply system, emergency power unit, brake system, hydraulic system, fuel system, environment control system, molecular sieve oxygen generation systems, digital flight control system, and glass cockpit.

Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, also had some speculation in an article published by the Global Times,

Some of the photos of the new J-11B variant show that the aircraft still has a pitot tube on the center front of its radar dome, and usually the pitot tube has compatibility issues with an AESA radar, so if the aircraft is indeed equipped with an AESA radar remains to be determined… It could be a significantly improved pulse-Doppler radar or a passive electronically scanned array (PESA) radar. The possibility for an AESA radar should also not be fully ruled out.