Why is China Developing a New J-11 Variant?

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force recently unveiled the first high quality images of the J-11D “4++ generation” air superiority fighter — the latest derivative of the Soviet Su-27 Flanker design and the fifth to be manufactured in China. Flanker derivatives have come to form the bulk of the PLA Air Force's combat fleet since their acquisition from Russia in 1992 – with over 500 currently in service including both Russian and indigenous variants. The J-11D program, and recent acquisitions of both the Russian Su-35 and indigenous J-16 strike fighter, demonstrate that the PLA sees a continuing role for enhanced Flanker derivatives as it modernizes its aerial warfare capabilities. The new fighter represents the latest of China's new generation of indigenous fighters alongside the Chengdu J-20 stealth platform which entered service in March 2017 and the J-10C which was inducted in April the following year, and is capable of fulfilling a highly complementary role to these two aircraft. The fighter is a direct analogue to the Russian Su-35, of which the PLA has received two dozen since 2016, and is speculated to have benefited considerably from a study of Russia's own enhanced Flanker design.

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