China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has sent Sukhoi Su-35 ‘Flanker-E’ fighter aircraft on a “joint combat patrol” over the South China Sea, according to a 7 February statement by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) in Beijing.
The MND said the advanced multirole fighters’ participation in the mission will help strengthen the PLAAF’s long-range operational capability. “This is a pragmatic action for the air force to fulfill its mission in the new era and conduct a combat training military exercise," it added.
Although the statement did not reveal when the deployment took place or how many fighters were involved, the move marked the first time China has made public a deployment of its Su-35s to the region.
In November 2015 Russian defence conglomerate Rostec announced that Beijing had signed a contract to purchase 24 Su-35s, making China the first foreign contractor of the Russian-built aircraft, which is claimed to be an upgraded and highly manoeuvrable ‘4++ generation fighter with characteristics and performance close to those of upcoming ‘fifth-generation combat aircraft.
The Russian-Sino agreement reportedly included not only the sale of the 24 Su-35s for a total of USD2 billion (USD83 million per unit), but also the delivery of ground support equipment and spare aircraft engines. The first fighters were delivered to China in December 2016.
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