Slow Motion Train Wreck

05-July 2018: China's unlicensed copy-cat J-15 program is in trouble due to serious engineering issues spawning from the PRCs replication attempt of a Russian Su-33. Please see here. As we at the Boresight have stressed over, and over, and over - China lacks the depth of engineering skill to develop complex modern aircraft and propulsion systems. Other than a large land-based army - China is of little threat to Western air and naval forces.
13-Oct 2017: Since our original writing in 2011, a new article has appeared in the New York Times illustrating precisely what we have been saying for years. China technical proficiency in many (many) areas has been vastly overstated. Also see here

THEFT \noun \theft\
a: the act of stealing; specifically: the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.
b: an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property.

25-Nov 2012: Since the time of our original writing in September 2011 the Peoples Republic of China (the PRC) has continued to proceed with its J-15 fighter program. New photos and video have appeared during carrier launch and recovery tests. The ship, aircraft, and aircraft engines are all of Russian origin with J-15 being illegally (re)produced by the state-controlled Shenyang Aircraft Company.

[Below] A host of illegally produced Sukhoi aircraft and derivatives being built and fielded in China by the state-controlled Shenyang Aircraft Company. Some of these aircraft use Russian Lyulka-Saturn AL-31 series engines while others use the less reliable more problematic Chinese AL-31 copy attempt - called the WS-10 Taihang.

[Above] J-15 is an unauthorized attempt to replicate the Russian Naval Su-33.

While the Chinese regime proceeds with its J11-b, J-15 and J-16 programs global governments and the global aerospace community at large is forced to watch one of the most appalling displays of international intellectual State property theft - in memory.

To those who argue this whole discussion is revolving around 1970-80s technology...don’t be fooled. These are the same arguments that say: a modern cell phone has 10 or 100 times the compute power of the computer used in the Apollo lunar module, that landed on the moon. Okay, all that proves is:  you don’t need very much compute power - to land on the moon. 

The PRCs J-11b program is an unauthorized attempt to replicate the Russian Sukhoi Su-27SK class fighter after a 200 aircraft kit deal with China unraveled when Russia detected (after about 100 kits were delivered) the Chinese regime attempting to reverse-engineer the Sukhoi thus abrogated the intellectual copyright agreement. This includes Russian Saturn/Lyulka AL-31-class turbofan engines.

[Above] An authentic Russian Sukhoi Su-33 Naval Flanker. Negations between Russia and China to purchase or "loan" Russian Su-33s collapsed after the J-11b program was uncovered in PRC by Russia.
The J-15 program origins are murkier but involve unauthorized PRC acquisition of Russian technology as well. Here are two rather rare photos of Chinese authorities in possession of the Russian 'T-10K' (T-10K-3 / T-10K-9) Su-33 prototype acquired from Ukraine. It remains somewhat of a mystery why China would need T-10K series prototypes to develop a Naval version of its J-11b. It is revealing. It would appear that Chinese true technical ability in authentic aircraft design - has been overstated.
In a time of immense and legitimate pressure to reduce defense budgets – the Chinese have caused both hawks and doves to look at one another and ask: “now what?”
We are not talking about copy-cat fashion handbags...this is State theft of multi-billion dollar programs that included loss of life in the Nation of origin - to develop.

The Russian Federation has the right to control and manage (who/what/where/why) her intellectual State property (particularly with regards to strategic weaponry) and not to have hundreds of billions of (RUB) rubles of Su-27 series design/test/development (this includes TsAGI scientific State research) - willfully stolen by some Chinese regime.

The development and flight test program of the Su-27 Flanker Series by Russia costs the lives of two Russian test pilots.
Russia aerospace officials have attempted to downplay the significance of J-11b / J-15 on technical grounds citing organic Russian delivered aircraft will be superior in capability. Surely there is some truth to this, as to why would the PRC need additional Russian design references (in Su-33) to “build” a J-15? In addition, China's counterfeit electronic component industry should play a role.

But there is no response possible for the international ethics or international norms issue.

It is interesting that the PRC is proceeding with these J-11b and J-15 programs even after Chinese J-20 and J-31 "Stealth" machines have appeared?

To put this in (a Western) context: This would be equivalent to a deal with the Chinese regime to buy 200 export version F-15 Eagle or Eurofighter Typhoon kits – for the PRC to then build 100, and then say “the aircraft does not meet specifications” - halt the rest of the deal - only to have a Chinese F-15 Eagle or Typhoon copies appear in China later, while upgraded F-15s and Typhoon's are still being delivered to their nations of origin.

There would be complete and utter outrage in the West.

There may be another concern: Pakistan. With the demise of Bin Laden, serious questions have necessarily emerged as to whether and to what degree - the Pakistani civilian leadership control events and elements inside Pakistan proper. To understand the PRC/Pakistani relationship see below video of the PRC/Pakistani cooperation and financing arrangement on the JF-17 "Thunder" program. To date, the PRC and J-17 are using Russian-supplied engines

Might the PRC/Pakistan be preparing a roadmap for future illegal technology transfer(s) of Russian Su-30-class fighter technologies into South Asia? Look at this chart [below]:

The authenticity of this chart is unknown. It appears to be a hodge-podge of planes operated by India, Pakistan and/or China.  What is of most interest is: we count no less than seven (7) Flanker-class aircraft. The aircraft circled in green could be a PRC "J-20" class machine. There a previously unknown type depicted just below the aircraft circled.

There is a more alarming issue at hand here: this is the military-to-military relationship with the USAF and Pakistan due to the military-to-military relationship of Pakistan and China. Not only that. The PRC was allowed to participate in air-combat proficiency exercises with a NATO member - Turkey?!

[Above] Chinese Su-30s during exercises with Turkey in 2010. [Below] The PAF (Pakistani Air Force) has had repeated and expanding 'Shaheen' exercises with the PLAAF.

[Below] Six F-22As (1st Fighter Wing) together with PAF F-7PG (No. 31 Wing) in exercises at Al Dhafra AB in the UAE in 2009.
The Chinese have no history of air-combat proficiency whatsoever. However, continued USAF “Red-Flag” exercise with the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) is with near certainty - a conduit for the PRC regime to gain 60+ years of American-NATO knowledge/proficiency - that far too many American/Western aviators have given their lives (and the incalculable taxpayer dollars) to learn. This conduct by the USAF regarding Pakistan/NATO must be reviewed - and possibly halted.

Willful and illegal attempted reproduction of Russian Su-30/33-class technologies could spin out-of-control (outside of Russian government control/oversight) into South Asia if the PRC attempts to “disseminate” Russian technical intellectual property into Pakistan. Might the PRC have already done so?

Those who might dismiss this eventuality are (simply) not using cogent deductive reasoning. If some Chinese regime sees no issue stealing-propagating Russian fighter expertise into China proper - why then would China have an issue not to propagate this knowledge onward?

So if you steal it – you must pass the theft onwards – because you don’t value the work and costs involved in development - regardless - and regardless of nation of origin (even if it is your own nation).

If the PRC asserts it would never pass on Flanker (J-11/J-11b/J-15) technologies elsewhere, that China reserves the right to control and manage (who/what/where/why) J-11/J-11b/J-15 program costs/technologies go, then China must concede that Russia (at a minimum) has that very same right - and therefore has legitimate concern(s) over PRC State theft - by definition.

This is why we must assume Flanker technologies must be propagated by the same State engaged in the theft.

Therefore, the Chinese State is - by definition - incapable of reasoning properly. This then has very serious implications for PRC strategic miscalculation.

Indeed, the Chinese State has proven not immune from strategic miscalculation. Though outside the scope of this discussion, the PRC government's one-child birth policy combined with Chinese cultural preference for male children has produced profound unforeseen consequences that will cripple China for decades. To those who still subscribe that China will surpass all expectations as a rising power, should remember that the marvel that was Classical Chinese Civilization has effectively been swept away by the least for the foreseeable future.

We trust that the Russian government is abreast of the situation and is watching the events and the state actors involved - very carefully. Russia is still supplying engines. We trust that all parties that do business in/with China understand the implications for strategic intellectual property.

The Russians will counter any J-11b / J-15 / J-16 aircraft and this will result in ever more lethal organic Russian Flanker(s) and Flanker weaponry - yet another unfortunate consequence of agreement abrogation.

[In a rather bizarre development - Chinese state media reported that Shenyang Aircraft Company general manager and director of the J-15 program, Luo Yang has "died of a heart attack" on board the Liaoning carrier after J-15 successfully conducted its first landing and take off tests. Reportedly Yang was 51.]

We would remind the reader there have been no problems with Russian-Indian Flanker production licensing agreements. Why?

So take a good long look at the Chinese State - and how it conducts its affairs when it perceives utility in someone else’s skill, on someone else’s dime, and at someone else’s sacrifice.


- All media found here is for scholarship and research purposes and protected under U.S. Internet ‘Fair Use’ Law -


  1. While it can be appreciated that you highlight China's continued development in air power, I dont see what morality has to do with the matter.

    That nations do what ever they can to advance their core interests is hardly new, and the Chinese are hardly the first country to steal technology from their erstwhile opponents.

    The most famous example being the theft of the MIG21 by the Israelis who then handed it over to the United States for further study.

    The concept of Stealth after all is a Russian invention, and one hardly sees the United States coughing up royalties to the Russians.

    Germany and indeed a number of European countries prior to world war one were notorious for ripping of the British, indeed counterfeiting formed the economic and military backbone for the rising German power and was a significant factor in the resulting escalation of tensions.

    Again my point is there is little point in being morally outraged about the whole matter. No doubt a few decades from now - assuming all things continue on their current course - Chinese military tech will be ripped off by someone else.

  2. J-11b and J-15 are a direct violation of a specific international agreement and copyright with Russia. Not a later attempt to borrow “some ideas” from others, and build a J-20.

  3. On the whole I agree with your view, but feel it is somewhat overblown. I certainly agree that the circumstances of the J-11B intellectual property theft are unbelievable. Making an order, reverse engineering them, and then canceling the rest of the order is very blatant. And Chinese cooperation with Pakistan is certainly a worrying. The Russians should definitely watch China very closely and reconsider its arms exports to China.

    However, pointing out the loss of life in the USSR in developing the Su-27 is somewhat gratuitous. If anything, the theft of intellectual property might save Chinese and/or Pakistani test pilots' lives.

  4. the correct claim to any wrong doing can only be a breach of contract, not theft. intellectual property does not inherit the main qualities of actual property whereby copying a design doesn't deprive the owner of that design, thus theft is a common misconception one makes with regard to the reproduction of it.

    since the chinese obviously failed to fulfill their end of the contract, you are correct in asking all parties who do business with china to think twice, but in the end i think they became too big to fail thus they can get away with murder much like the united states is used to.

  5. A comment on that cites your work regarding Chinese intellectual-property theft:

  6. If India could copy a Su-27, it would. But it can't, so it buys knock down kits of the Su-30 for 2x the price and jealously complains about China. Pathetic!

  7. It really doesn't matter if the PRC lacks the ability to be a member of the Aerospace Superiority Arena due to its own devices and has to resort to Theft. First of all, the PRC is stealing from the Soviets. It's not like mugging Mother Theresa and then taking the PRC to the World Court to be tried. Let the PRC commit "Manufacturing Theft" on a system that as a consequence during the act; detonates as kills a few thousand, destroys the technology involved and drags the Soviets into a political embarassment globally.

    It seems that as spoils of war and military hardware business transactions are countries able to save a few calories by not thinking for themselves on how to build a bigger and better mousetrap and come up with an original concept. Sounds like the modern music industry......

  8. I detect an Anti Chinese fear, animosity or racist attitude more than anything in the article. All nations in the Military area steal and spy if they can get away with it. If the USA via its vast Intelligence network obtained access to a new very clever idea the Chinese had developed they would copy it without hesitation. [Possibily already have.] It never pays to be too "sanctimonious". The exact word the Chinese leadership used to describe USA actions in this area when "Snowden" revealed the real extent of US spying via the Net etc. For years all we have ever heard was "sanctimonious" criticism by US Politicians of China's much smaller activities in this area. The table now is turning very quickly regarding China. The Multinational 'Schneider" recently was forced to pay $43m compensation to Chint [100% Chinese owned] for copying there new improved Miniature Circuit Breaker design. China has paid a price, Russia is still refusing to sell them there [117S] SU35s engine. By the time they get it it will be three Generations old. The new second stage Pak Fa engine will probably be ready.

    1. We are responding to the prevailing view in much of the west that the rise of Asia in the next several decades will be a mostly Chinese affair. The real rise of Asia will be more pronounced in India than most realize. Regarding behavior - whether it is the Chinese state-controlled Shenyang Aircraft Company, the American Nation Security Agency, or Russian support of “the butcher” Bashar Assad of Syria - just because it is done – doesn’t make it ok. The cruel irony here is biggest obstacle to China’s rise will be China. No rule of law (Chinese courts are not to be trusted), systemic corruption, no free press – plus China is literally poisoning itself to death. Again we remind the reader that there have been no (no) problems with Su-30 sales-support and production-licensing agreements with India. Why not?

      - The Boresight

    2. The us has copied design principles and have even taken working tech as spoils of war but never have we commited this type of deception against our own ally but then we have never been wholly dependent on any nation for military tech. Despite the short term benefits of copying it insures you stay perpetually behind tier1 technology.

  9. As much as the original post was anti chinese the replies were almost apologist and some posters even tried to put the us in the same category so i had to point out the fact that any tech we ever acquired were as spoils of war and not as a client state stealing from it's benefactor.

  10. bear in mind that the chinesse have been training with turkey not just with the pakistanis!!

  11. I still can't believe that Russia plans to sell their S-400 & probably Su-35 to China in the near future, even after all this.

    1. Continuing from my above comment:

      China's bluntly disregard for intellectual property is appalling but I think internally the Chinese are starting to change.
      Their military brass is starting to become open to world (mostly the west). Note the following examples:
      and so many other examples such as given western media access to Chinese military.

      The point is China won't stop stealing but they won't steal as much as they used to. Instead they would develop their own weaponry using knowledge from their past treachery. While at the same time using international norms (such as licensing) to improve their knowledge in weapons development. (The norm seems to be that 'You're not a superpower if you can't at least develop your own home grown fighter').
      It's almost like they robbed the bank to get money but once they got it, they started to pay their taxes and bills. (But that doesn't erase the earlier theft).

      Anyway, Russia should NOT sell their S-400 (& MORE importantly the Su-35) to China. These guys can't be trusted (even if they have a common antagonist which is the US).


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