In the market for a missile system? The Russian military hardware on show at Airshow China

  • From jet fighters to turbofan engines, Moscow’s aviation might was on display on the tarmac in Zhuhai
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2018, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2018, 11:18pm

As the biggest exporter of weapons to China, Russia has more than 100 products on display at this year’s Airshow China. Here is some of the hardware it had on show to attract clients in China and around the region.

Military aircraft

1. Sukhoi Su-35 fighter

China signed a US$2.5 billion contract for 24 Su-35s in late 2015, making it the first international buyer of the aircraft. At least 14 of the jets have already been delivered and the rest are expected to be handed over by 2020. Indonesia also ordered 11 Su-35s earlier this year.

The aircraft is the best of Russia’s fourth-generation jet fighters available on the international market.

It is powered by two AL-41-1S (AL-117S) turbofan engines and fitted with thrust vectoring nozzles enabling it to perform post-stall manoeuvres at low speeds. Its multifunctional radar is capable of tracking up to 30 targets simultaneously.

2. Ilyushin Il-78MK-90A aerial refuelling tanker

The Il-78 series of air tankers is based on the Il-76 transport plane. The latest version is the Il-78MK-90A, which had its maiden fight this year. The four-engine tanker can carry a maximum payload of 52 tonnes over 5,000km (3,100 miles).

Air refuelling tankers are in short supply in the Chinese military. China has just eight Il-78s from Russia and has plugged the gap with its own H6-Us, which it developed in the 1990s based on the 1950s Soviet Tu-16 bomber.

3. Ilyushin Il-76MD-90A airlifter

China’s air force is also in need of large airlifters. It has bought more than a dozen Il-76s over the years and developed the Xian Y-20 cargo plane, which can carry a payload of up to 66 tonnes. But the Y-20 is powered by Russian Soloviev D-30 turbofan engines, limiting production.

The latest version of the Ilyushin, the Il-76MD-90A with Aviadvigatel PS-90 high-bypass turbofan engines, might help China make up any shortfalls.

4. Mil Mi-171Sh combat-transport helicopters

The Mi-171Sh was introduced in 2002 and has been sold to several countries, including Nato members Croatia and the Czech Republic.

It was designed for combat missions in local armed conflicts, and can be fitted with a Shturm-V guided missile system, 80 S-8 unguided rockets, GSh-23L 23mm cannons, and various machine guns.

Hundreds of the Mi-171 series helicopters are used in China for both military and civilian purposes.


1. S-400 Triumph surface-to-air missile system

The S-400 is Russia’s best air defence missile system in service, with greater ability to detect stealth aircraft – such as the United States’ F-35 Lightning – and counter electronic jamming.

Moscow is promoting it on the international market despite concerns from the US about the system’s threat to American stealth fighters.

One S-400 system features up to 72 launchers and 384 missiles. The missiles vary in range from 40km to 400km, and can hit targets travelling at a maximum speed of 4,800 metres per second (10,740mph), or Mach 15, from altitudes of 10m to 30km.

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China was the first foreign buyer of the S-400 system, ordering six of them in 2015. The first was delivered earlier this year.

Turkey and India have also signed deals for the system and several other potential buyers in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, have expressed interest in it.

2. Tor-M2KM modular surface-to-air missiles

Almaz-Antey, the maker of the S-400, is also advertising its Tor-M2KM air defence system, a short-range low to medium altitude surface-to-air missile shield.

China already has a number of the earlier version Tor-M1s but the Tor-M2KM features a highly flexible modular design and can be installed on a truck, roof, ship deck or any horizontal surface of at least 2.5 metres by 7.1 metres. It is self-contained and no external support is needed.

With a range of 15km, the system can simultaneously track 20 targets.

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3. Uran-E and Bal-E anti-ship systems

Developed by Tactical Missile, the Uran-E is a shipborne anti-ship missile system while the Bal-E is its coastal version.

They use different launcher batteries but both systems use Kh-35E subsonic anti-ship cruise missiles, which can destroy vessels displacing up to 5,000 tonnes. The Kh-35E has a range of up to 130km and the maximum speed of Mach 0.8.

It has proved a big seller for Russia, with buyers including Vietnam and India.

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1. AL-41F-1S turbofan engine

The AL-41F-1S is made by Saturn and designed for the Su-35. China has ordered a number of the engines as spare parts for its Su-35s.

The engine, also known as the 117S, is an upgrade of the previous AL-31F. China bought hundreds of AL-31Fs for its Shenyang J-15 carrier-based fighters, and AL-31FNs for its Chengdu J-10 fighters.

China is still working on its own WS-15 Emei engine and has had to use AL-31s in test types of the Chengdu J-20, China’s most advanced stealth fighter.

Some observers say China might buy more AL-41F-1S for the J-20, which is expected to go into mass production before the end of the year.

2. VK-2500M helicopter engine

The VK-2500M is the latest and highest power type of turboshaft aero engine and has been described as “revolutionary” in its use in high-speed helicopters.

It is designed for double-engined medium-sized helicopters with a take-off weight of between eight and 15 tonnes.

Its predecessor, the VK-2500, powered Russia’s Mil Mi-35M, Mi-28N, and Kamov Ka-52 military helicopters as well as China’s Z-10, until Beijing replaced it with its own WZ-9 engines.

Radar and electronics

1. Zhuk-AME FGA50 AESA radar

Russia’s multifunctional, multimode active phased array radar is designed for its MIG and Sukhoi family of fighters and could be used in China’s Su-30 series and Su-35 aircraft.

It has a detection range of up to 160km and can simultaneously operate in air-to-air and air-to-land modes to attack multiple targets.

According to Janes, it can track up to 30 targets and simultaneously attack up to six aerial targets.