Key point: The Su-35 is an advanced and important piece of hardware that Taiwan would be hard-pressed to counter.
The Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E has entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) according to the Chinese Ministry of Defense. The advanced Russian-built fourth-generation fighter is a significant boost to the PLAAF and could be used to good effect by Beijing in over the South China Sea.
“The Su-35 is a multi-purpose fighter jet capable of air combat and precision strike against land and surface targets,” Senior Colonel Wu Qian, Director General of the Information Office of China's Ministry of National Defense, said during a April 26 press conference. “Currently, the aviation troop units of the PLA Air Force have been armed with the Su-35 fighters.”
With the jets now in service, the Su-35 would significantly bolster Chinese forces operating over the South China Sea or the Taiwan Straits. Indeed, Beijing has in recent days been conducting exercises in the region near Taiwan, which it considers to be a breakaway province. “Recently, the PLA Air Force dispatched multiple types of warplanes to carry out real combat training exercises in the airspace over the sea to further enhance the capability of safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Wu said. “The island the PLA warplanes patrolled around is, of course, China’s Taiwan Island.”
Wu promised that China would take action if Taiwan were to attempt to formally declare independence. “The series of actions we have taken are targeting the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces and their activities, and are to protect the well-being of the people in Taiwan from being undermined by the ‘Taiwan independence’ conspiracy,” Wu said. “If the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces continue to act recklessly, we will take further actions.”
If push comes to shove, the Su-35 could feature prominently in any Chinese attempt to subdue Taiwan. The Flanker-E is arguably the PLAAF’s most capable fighter apart from the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter, which is not likely to fully operational yet even if it has achieved some level of operational capability. Particularly, if the Su-35 is armed with long-range air-to-air missiles such as the very long range PL-15, it could be used to attack American aerial refueling tankers and other support aircraft such the E-3 AWACS that are crucial for conducting air operations over the vastness of the Pacific.