The introduction of Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets will bring a number of benefits to the People's Liberation Army Air Force and the Chinese aviation industry, according to military observers.
The aircraft's Russian producer, the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association, says the first four Su-35s will be delivered to the PLA next year and the remainder are expected by the end of 2018.
Sergey Chemezov, CEO of Russia's state technology corporation Rostec, said last month that Russia and China have signed a contract, estimated to be worth $2 billion, for 24 Su-35s. The deal was confirmed last week by Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry.
Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge, said on Tuesday that it will be some time before the PLA commissions the domestically developed fifth-generation fighter jet, the J-20.
"After the J-20 joins the PLA, it will also take time for our pilots to familiarize themselves with the aircraft. So the Su-35 will help the PLA fill in the gap before it has enough J-20s."
"The Su-35 is very close to a fifth-generation combat aircraft in terms of flight maneuverability," Wang said, adding that technological advances represented by the Su-35 are another major attraction for the Chinese military.
The operational range of the Su-35 is much greater than the Su-27's, which means it will give China an edge over the South China Sea, he said.
"The PLA has a limited number of aerial refueling aircraft, and these tankers are not as good as those from the United States. That leads to a constrained operational range and flight duration for our existing fighter jets," Wang said.
"Combat jets capable of flying farther, like the Su-35, which boasts a larger fuel capacity than the Su-27, can substantially improve the PLA's presence over those waters."
Fu Qianshao, an aviation equipment expert with the PLA Air Force, said the Su-35 is sufficiently powerful to surpass the US Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II thanks to its supreme maneuverability.
"Despite the Su-35 having no stealth capability, it can still rival fifth-generation fighter jets in other aspects. Its service will complement our existing fourth-generation fleet of J-10s and J-11s," he said.
Song Xiaojun, a military commentator for China Central Television, said the first 24 Su-27s that were introduced to the PLA Air Force have started to be withdrawn from service, so the Su-35s are expected to fill the gap.