Russia’s defense cooperation with China may be about to reach new heights following reports that the Kremlin may be considering flying its Su-57 fighter jets – the new linchpin of Russia’s commanding air superiority – to China to showcase its might and pitch for orders and technological exchange agreements.

Camaraderie between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping is said to have provided the thrust for a landmark deal concerning the transfer of core technologies of one of the world’s most advanced fifth-generation fighters.

The Su-57, touted by Putin as the world’s best, is intended to take the lead in the Russian Air Force from the MiG-29 and Su-27.

Jane’s Defense Weekly quoted Viktor Kladov, director of international cooperation and regional policy at Rostec Defense Industrial Holding Company, as saying that Putin may, in the coming weeks, approve sales of the Su-57E, an export variant of the Su-57.

Kladov reportedly named China as a potential customer, which has recently taken delivery of 24 Su-35 jets. He also said that in the next two years China would need to decide either to procure additional Su-35s, build the jet in China under a localized production program, or buy a new fifth-generation fighter like the Su-57E.

South Korea, Vietnam, India, Brazil and Turkey have also been tipped as prospective buyers of the Su-57.

Earlier this year, Chinese papers including the PLA Daily and Global Times dropped hints about Beijing’s interest in the Su-57, with reports and comments hailing the capabilities of the aerodynamic fighter.

While insisting that the J-20 – China’s answer to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 – is more well-rounded, designers with the People’s Liberation Army are impressed by the unique concepts represented by  the aerodynamic Russia jet, and the PLA is eager to compare notes with the Russian military on the design and maintenance of each other’s fifth-generation fighter jets.

The supersonic, multi-role Su-57 is capable of both aerial combat and leading sorties against ground and naval targets. Though its focus is not on stealth or beyond visual range attacks, its compromise on stealth is justified as it can evade incoming long-range missiles on the strengths of its advanced avionics, thrust vectoring control as well as super-maneuverability at the top speed of Mach 2 to engage enemies at close range, when stealth becomes irrelevant.

Another unique design is the world’s first side-facing radar in addition to the conventional front-facing ones. Combined with other radars and infrared sensors, the Su-57 is able to detect enemy stealth aircraft.

Four Su-57s were spotted in Syria in February 2018 and the jets were deployed there for combat trials during which the parameters of weapons work were monitored.

Two J-20s perform a flyover during the 2018 Zhuhai Airshow. Photo: Handout

Russia’s likely sale of the Su-57 comes just as the PLA’s J-20 is about to enter mass production.

Some Chinese military observers, however, say that priority should be given to the Chinese-made fighter, as integrating a foreign jet into the PLA fleet could give rise to compatibility issues in the weapons and command and control systems.

Some are also worried that the Su-57E could poach business from China’s FC-31, a fifth- generation fighter being built for export.