Red Dragon "Flankers" – China's Prolific "Flanker" Family

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Andreas Rupprecht
Other Publication Information
Paperback - 256 pages with 1 black & white and 226 color pictures, 4 tables, 1 graph, 1 map, and 27 artworks (including side profiles)
Company: Harpia Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Book Cover

This is the author’s seventh book for Harpia Publications on Chinese military aviation and complements several of his earlier volumes by providing a more in-depth look at the Su-27/J-11 “Flanker” aircraft in Chinese service, including China’s acquisition, development, and operational use of the aircraft.

Since the first satellite images of the prototype Su-27 were released, the aircraft has evolved into one of the most capable and versatile fourth-generation aircraft. Over the years there have multiple variants developed by the Russians – Su-27, Su-30, Su-33, Su-34, and Su-35. It is often overlooked that the Chinese aviation industry has also developed several variants of its own, some paralleling those of Russia, but others being specifically tailored to China’s needs.

The book is divided into five chapters with a robust appendix that provides additional details on the “family trees” of the different versions of China’s Flankers as well as a synopsis of each variant in service with the Chine People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the Chines People’s Liberation Navy (PLAN).

The first chapter examines China’s initial purchase of single-seat aircraft and the associated two-seat trainer versions. Mr. Rupprecht starts out the chapter by looking at the political and economic circumstances that brought China and Russia together in the early 1990s and led to the sale of an initial batch of Su-27SK single-seat aircraft and Su-27UBK two-seat trainers to China. He takes a detailed look at the known contracts for China’s purchase of Su-27 and compares the number of aircraft publicly announced as being purchased with the number of aircraft that China appears to have in service of the variants purchased. He also discusses the rumors and claims of China reverse engineering the aircraft or building more airframes than allowed under its license. The chapter not only discusses the Su-27SK, the Su-27UBK and the Su-35 aircraft China purchased directly from Russia, but also takes a detailed look at the indigenous J-11 family that was developed and manufactured in China.

Chapter 2 looks at China’s purchase of the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2, two-seat multirole/strike versions, and its development of the indigenous J-16. The original single-seat aircraft purchased by China were primarily air defense aircraft with limited, if any, air-to-ground capabilities. In order to field a capable fourth-generation strike fighter, China looked to Russia’s development of the Su-30 aircraft from the Su-27. I had not realized that, unlike most Western aircraft production, there were two different factories building the Su-27 and each developed its own strike version based on the Su-27UBK airframe. China selected the Su-30MKK constructed by Komsomolsk-on-Amur. which uses an older and lighter radar and therefore does not require the canards used on the Su-30MKI.

Chapter 3 looks at China’s development of its J-15 carrier-borne fighter and its related variants.While China’s J-15 is similar to the Su-33 operated by the Soviet Navy, unlike the Su-27 and Su-30 aircraft, China never purchased any Su-33’s from Russia. Instead, it purchased one of the original prototypes for the Su-33 that was left in Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed and used this aircraft in the development of the J-15. The chapter includes several photographs of the T10K-7 prototype in Ukraine as well as in China along with photographs of prototypes and operational versions of the J-15.

Chapter 4 discusses the various weapons applicable to the different versions, including not only the original Russian weapons that were delivered with the Russian-produced aircraft but also the Chinese weapons that have been developed for use on the Chinese variants including several electronic warfare pods and guidance pods.

Chapter 5 looks at the operational deployment of the different versions and includes a good discussion of the different serial number systems used by the PLAAF and the PLAN that have been applied to China’s Flankers. The chapter includes a couple of tables listing the units of both the PLAAF and the PLAN that that have operated Flankers over the years as well as changes to which aircraft versions were assigned to the various units.

As mentioned above, the appendix includes a nice “family tree” diagram showing the evolutionary history of the different Flanker variants operated by China along with a single page dedicated to each variant showing a color side view of an aircraft of that variant and a brief discussion of the characteristics of that variant.

The book is full of outstanding photographs of Chinese Flankers with good descriptive captions that not only describe the aircraft in the photograph, but often include details about the weapons fitted to the aircraft, the paint scheme on the aircraft, or pointers on how to identify which variant the aircraft is.

This is an outstanding book and bit only is it an interesting discussion of the Flanker in Chinese service, butthe photographs and drawings will be a great resource for anyone modeling a Chinese Flanker.

Most highly recommended!Thank you to Harpia Publishing and Casemate USA for the review sample.


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