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Chinese deal to buy Russian jets, subs murky; Moscow fears Beijing’s tech theft

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2013

China and Russia have inked a deal for Beijing to buy 24 advanced Sukhov Su-35 multirole jet fighters and four Lada-class diesel-electric-powered submarines, two of which will be built in China, in the largest arms sale between the two countries in 10 years.

Or have they?

Chinese state TV reported Monday that the on-again, off-again deal was finalized during the weekend visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow.

But Russian media denied that Tuesday, saying no agreement had been reached, Defense News reported.

"The Kremlin is officially denying even discussing arms trade during Xi's visit," Vasiliy Kashin, a China military specialist at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told Defense News.

Another defense industry source in Russia told the publication that there were "strong reservations" in Moscow about going forward with the deal, which the two countries agreed to explore in a memorandum of understanding signed in December.

China is widely believed in Moscow to have stolen the technology for the last fighter it bought from Russia, the Su-27, building a copy of the Russian jet fighter and calling it the Chinese J-11B.

The sale of the Su-27SK, signed in 1995 for 200 of the planes, was aborted by Russia in 2006 after only 95 aircraft had been supplied. The reason? Russia "discovered China had reverse-engineered the fighter and was secretly manufacturing an indigenous copy, the J-11B, with Chinese-made avionics and engines," Defense News reports.

In particular, China is believed to covet access to the technology for the Su-35's advanced Saturn AL-117S jet engine, which also is used in Russia's fifth-generation stealth fighter prototype, the T-50.

"There are strong suspicions [in Moscow that] China will procure the technological know-how of the Su-35 and [Lada] and simply produce an indigenous version," the publication concluded.

The Chinese reports over the weekend did not give any figures for the value of the deal for either four submarines or 24 aircraft.

But earlier this month, Russia's RIA-Novosti news agency reported that a deal for 48 Su-35s — twice the number apparently now envisaged — would be worth about $4 billion.

China, the world's No. 1 importer of weapons, has been a major customer for Russian arms exports since the 1990s, RIA-Novosti added. Trade peaked in 2005, just before the Su-27 cancellation, when Russian sales to Beijing reached almost $4 billion. They have fluctuated since then, dipping to $800 million in 2009 and rebounding to $2.1 billion last year, the agency said, citing figures from Rosoboronexport, Russia's state-owned arms export monopoly.

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