While the Indian Air Force's plans to buy a new class of medium fighters have essentially gone back to square one in recent weeks, China's People's Liberation Army Air Force on Wednesday released footage of a new aircraft, the relatively secretive J-16 fighter-bomber.

The new aircraft, like the IAF's SU-30MKI, is a derivative of the Soviet-era SU-27 air superiority fighter. The J-16, believed to have first flown in 2012-13, features numerous improvements in electronics, including an advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and is believed to be optimised for the strike role. The aircraft features Chinese-built engines, drawing attention to Beijing's advances in propulsion technology.

There has been limited footage available of the J-16 on open source media, highlighting the secrecy associated with the project. The PLAAF is believed to be developing an electronic warfare variant of the J-16.

The J-16's 'official' unveiling comes more than 20 years after China imported the SU-27. Since then, Beijing built the SU-27 under license as the J-11 and developed indigenous derivatives such as the J-11B and J-15, which currently serves on China's aircraft carrier. The J-16 is the latest derivative from China's stable of Su-27 'copies'.

The latent advantages of the SU-27 design such as its large fuel capacity, payload and nose design (allowing for a massive radar) have meant that both Russia and China have built multiple derivatives of the design.

The J-16 is evidence of China's calibrated approach in developing its aerospace industry and air force capabilities in harmony even as the Indian approach to the same goal remains ad hoc in nature.

A case in point is the IAF's intention to buy 126 aircraft, which was initiated in the early 2000s. The tender, which dragged on for nearly a decade, was effectively annulled in 2015 when PM Narendra Modi decided to buy 36 Rafale fighters off the shelf. In 2015, the IAF sought bids to buy at least 100 single-engine fighters. However, recently,the IAF was reportedly asked to drop the single-engine plan and consider other aircraft.

The Chinese approach, relying on a combination of commercial purchases, reverse-engineering and espionage, may have dismayed the west and Russia, but is now yielding dividends.