China Duplicates Russian Top Secret Fire-Control Codes For SU-27 Fighter

by DEBKAfile

29 June 2002


A 33-year old Chinese software engineer, Zhu Rong Gong, has duplicated the secret fire-control software and systems integration for Russia’s Su-27 series of aircraft, giving his country’s drive towards the fully autonomous production of this potent weapon a sharp spurt.

DEBKAfile reports this feat of Beijing’s commercial-military intelligence from its exclusive Chinese sources.

Zhu, who works at China’s Luoyang Institute of Electro-Optical Equipment (AVIC Research Institute Number 613), has won many awards, including a personal commendation from Defense Minister General Chi Haotian.

China is currently believed to operate 100 or more of these state of the art fighter aircraft, which parallel the Russian Mig-29 and US F-15C. In February 1996, Russia sold full Su-27 production rights to China for US$2.5 billion, but withheld the production secrets of certain key technologies, such as the software used to control the aircraft’s sophisticated integrated fire control system, which were supplied only in “black box” form.

Initially, China completed its first domestic production of SU-27s, which the Chinese air force designates J-11, in late 1998, from imported components. By the end of this year, its output is expected to reach ten aircraft and then rise to 15 annually. The Chinese estimate eventual domestic production going up to 100 per year, although Western estimates put this total at no more than 10 to 20 aircraft per year with substantial Russian assistance.

During August 1999, Beijing and Moscow signed an agreement for the purchase of 40 or more Su-30MKK (i.e. modernizirovannyi kommerchesky dla Kitaya, or ‘modernized commercially for China’) fighter-bombers from the Irktusk Aircraft Production Association in a contract worth up to another US$2.5 billion. A co-production agreement was subsequently made for an additional 250 aircraft, most likely at the Shenyang facility, and the purchase of a second batch of 40 constructed aircraft.
The Su-30MKK is a sophisticated long-range attack version of the Su-27 that can deliver a wide variety of ordnance.
The Russians counted on their “bans and restrictions”, coupled with China’s practical limitations, to hold Beijing back from modernizing and exporting non-licensed versions of the SU-27 and SU-30 variants without their help. They relied on the fact that the AL-31F engines and all the sets of radio-electronic equipment for these planes had to come from Russia.

However, Chinese intelligence has actively pursued the secrets of the aircraft sub-systems Russia is withholding. During early 1999, a plot to steal key Sukhoi Su-27 technologies denied to China was reportedly foiled by the Russian Federal Security Service; on May 1, 1999, the Russian Far East Military District Court charged two Chinese nationals and five Russians with stripping two sets of equipment from Russian operational aircraft and from the Komsomolsk-na-Amur Aviation Production Works, where the Su-27 is manufactured.

Most of the stolen items were believed recovered.

The Luoyang Institute of Electro-Optical Equipment, Luoyang, Henan Province, where Zhu is employed, has been a key R&D establishment for Chinese airborne fire control systems for two decades. It has over 1,500 employees, including some 100 senior scientists and 300 engineers. Its departments include: fire control engineering; fire control computer; electro-optical display technology; rate gyro sensor; TV, laser and infrared technology; fire control simulation technology; opto-electronic aiming technology; trial production factory, etc. It has developed three generations of fire control and electro-optical systems (e.g. automatic tracking systems, helmet-mounted tracking and display systems, airborne video recording systems, HUD/fire targeting system, etc.), some of which the institute claims have reached Western levels of sophistication. The institute has ISO9001 quality certification and a simulation lab for airborne fire control systems.

Its work, crowned by Zhu Rong Gong’s duplication feat, has contributed significantly towards China mass-producing its own updated and improved versions of the Su-27 fighter aircraft design, free of dependence on Moscow.