RUSSIAN STATE arms export agency Rosoboronexport is believed to be in the final stages of negotiations to sell up to 50 Sukhoi Su-33 naval fighters to China in a deal worth up to $2.5 billion, according to a report in Russian news daily Kommersant on October 23. The aircraft, novelised variants of the single-seat Su-27 Flanker, are intended for operation by People’s Liberation Army Naval Aviation (PLANA) units from the former Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, which China acquired from Ukraine in 1999 and is currently refitting at the Dalian shipyard.
When the deal is finalised, which is expected to be during December in Beijing, China will place a $100 million firm order for an initial two Su-33s for evaluation. These will be manufactured by the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO) and used for trials on the Varyag, which is expected to be ready for service by 2010. The contract will include options on a further 12 Su-33s, but this could eventually be increased to 48 aircraft, which would make it the second largest Russian arms export order. The largest deal was the $3 billion contract for licence assembly of 140 Sukhoi Su-30MKIs in India.
Ultimately, China is seeking to design and manufacture its own carrier-based fighters for operation from a planned fleet of three indigenously developed aircraft carriers, which it hopes to have in service by 2016. Local development of a naval fighter is however expected to take some time and it is therefore likely that the planned total of 50 Su-33s will be ordered for service before the new aircraft completes development.
Restricted by US and European arms embargoes, China is heavily reliant on Russia for its military technology and has already acquired 76 Su-27SK/UBK 0-11) fighters and 100 Su-30MKK multi-role aircraft for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
The first Su-27 embodied with folding wings first flew in May 1985. The Russian Navy eventually took delivery of 24 Su-27Ks which were formally re designated Su-33 on August 31, 1998. The Su-33s fly from the Russian carrier Kuznetsov.