Russia’s S-400 ‘Triumf’ air defense missile systems deal with China is without tech transfer or license production. But, Moscow is taking a calculated gamble that the strategic benefits of exporting weapons to Beijing will outweigh the risk of Chinese copying.

Moscow has begun the delivery of the S-400 systems to China under a 2014 contract, a government source disclosed to TASS.

"The implementation of the contract has begun, the first shipment has been sent to China," the source was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency.

The shipment includes a control station, a radar station, energy and support equipment, spare parts, various tools and other elements of the S-400 system.

The source also said that the contact with China stipulated neither technology transfer nor licensed production. But can there be any guarantee the Chinese will not reverse engineer the system as they have done for other high-tech military equipment supplied by Russia.

However, part of the equipment included in the first shipment of the S-400 air defense missile systems, which was sent to China under the 2014 contract, has been damaged by a storm and returned to Russia, the press service of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation told TASS.

Here is a very short list of cloned Russian military equipment by the Chinese:

Russian Sukhoi Su-27SK Flanker: The Shenyang J-11B
Russian MiG-17: The Shenyang J-5
Russian MiG-19: The Shenyang J-6
Russian MiG-19L Ground Attack Aircraft: The Nanchang Qiang-5
Russian MiG-21U Mongol-A Trainer: The Jianjiji J-7
Russian Sukhoi Su-33: The Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark
Russian MIG-21: The Chengdu-F7 / Shenyang J-8 and later JF-17 Thunder
Russian MIG-1.44: The Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon Stealth Fighter

Russian arms exports to China come with a major downside. The Chinese often buy limited quantities or ‘samples’, take them apart, and then reverse engineer the weapons. These knock-offs are then peddled cheap as chips overseas, undercutting Russian exports. As the Chinese defence industry grows in sophistication, Russia sees its market share under threat.

But the Chinese have taken reverse engineering to a different level. They have copied the German Maglev train and in 2014 offered it to India. Their hackers stole the blueprints of France’s TGV. Chinese J-30 stealth fighters are based on technology purloined from American companies that developed the F-35 and F-22. Virtually every missile, tank, artillery system and gun used by the Chinese military is a knockoff of Russian original.

Facing western economic sanctions, Russia is looking towards China for military micro-electronics and other cutting-edge technologies in which it lags and the Chinese monetary transfusion is essential for the Russian military industrial complex to survive and revive.

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