Having formally cleared the Su-57 for export earlier this month, Russia is poised to pitch their fifth-generation fighter to China.
Speaking at the LIMA-2019 Aerospace and Maritime exhibition, Rostec official Viktor Kladov looked to the future of the Sino-Russian arms trade: “China has recently taken delivery of 24 Su-35 aircraft, and in the next two years [China] will make a decision to either procure additional Su-35s, build the Su-35 within China, or buy a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. This could be another opportunity for the Su-57E.”
It is not yet clear how, or if, the “Su-57E” export variant differs from the base Su-57 design; those answers could be forthcoming at this year’s Dubai Airshow, hinted Kladov.
As the Su-57 enters serial production with the first unit to be delivered later this year, Rosoboronexport—Russia’s state exporting agency—has begun the lengthy, complex process of negotiating contracts with major prospective clients.
At first blush, it does seem somewhat premature for Rosoboronexport to push the Su-57 into export markets so early into its production cycle. However, this approach is not without its benefits. First, an early, high-profile contract with an industry giant like Beijing would have positive spillover effects in generating market interest from other importers. China’s prospective purchase is already making waves throughout Indian defence commentary, though whether or not it will warm New Delhi to the Su-57 remains to be seen. By the same token, it would reassert the health and continued viability of the burgeoning Sino-Russian security relationship.
The likelier hypothesis and the one recently floated by Chinese aircraft designer Wang Yongqing in an interview with Chinese outlet Global Times is that the Chinese are interested in the Su-57 for training and R&D purposes. A deep dive into the Su-57’s design—especially if they get one with the much-anticipated, second stage Izdeliye 30 engine—could provide Chinese aerospace engineers with insight in ways to improve the J-20’s design or production process.