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.