Future prospects for Chinese combat aircraft exports


VIP Professional
I thought I'd make a detailed list of countries that might see some exports of Chinese fighter jets (no UAVs in this analysis though) in the next decade or so.

To start it off, some elimination. Certain countries are simply unlikely to even consider buying Chinese. That's basically the west-aligned countries.

Also, certain countries don't have even jet trainers in their air forces (if they can afford an air force at all). So those would be off the list as well.

Of course, very poor countries aren't even a possibility. So any country with GDP of less than $20 billion per year isn't considered.

When both of those are excluded, what we're left with is:

Has soviet planes, old, but in reality they seem to have given on on having an active air force. Unsure if politically US pressure may be too great for China to have any chance of selling high tech arms there. I'd rate it as a no for chinese jets.

has us, brazilian and israel jets. Seems pretty much western leaning. I'd say no for chinese jets.

Has russian jets which, especially since the country is bankrupt, will likely be held onto for over a decade more. Has some F16s which could need replacement. And two dozen chinese K8 trainers. Politically, Chinese stuff might have a good chance. And some planes are only getting older. But given the lack of money I don't see anything but perhaps a dozen or two cheap trainers or at best combat L15 jets as a possibility here. Perhaps during 2030s there might be some more expensive plane purchases but that's beyond the scope of this analysis.

Has south african and us, european stuff. Under US sphere, I'd say. a no go.

Has soviet and french m2000. In theory this might go, though i'm sure US would cry foul and threaten sanctions. Doubtful that anything other than jet trainers, perhaps a dozen would go through. If even that.

has some chinese transports, but has only western trainers and light attack planes. I guess possible, but again, unlikely. And if a sale does happen, L15 class plane is probably the most that can be sold. Probably not even a dozen.

Has no air force, though it isn't a poor country. but military is one of the last things they're spending money on. And they seem to be western leaning more than anything else. Could go either way i guess, depending on new governments in the future, so anything from a L15 to even JF-17 is possible. Theoretically even J-10. But it's too hard to call. They could just as easily (or even more likely) go western and/or decide to stick to very low numbers. Perhaps be content with second hand f16s or just a dozen Gripens or Korean T50s or whatever.

Has a dozen refurbished mig29. Has no money so will likely stick to those up to 2030. Perhaps some chinese jet trainers are possible. maybe up to half a dozen? But yak130 may be even more likely, due to political ties.

tunisia -
only western so far, US influence is pretty strong. i'd say a no go.

buying russian currently. su30 and new mig29 and rumors say maybe even su32. maybe some trainers left for china? Though russian ties are stronger so i'd say unlikely purchase here.

Has some mig21, 8 su30. I guess they could go for several JF17. And/or perhaps more likely chinese trainers. Perhaps even a dozen? Theoretically Russia might stop the purchase via engines but then again, i don't see them talking uganda into getting mig29 so they might not.

Has some L39. has some Y12, so precedent for chinese is there. Could in theory get chinese trainers.

20 yak130 on order. Unlikely they'll need anything else and expans.

4 L39 on order. some russian helos, some european planes. Again unlikely they'll expand in the next decade.

has some mig21, may not fly. has chinese transports. has L15. Possible that a few more L15 will be bought. Perhaps combat L15 will be bought on top of those. Or even half a dozen JF17. who knows.

has west and east planes. possibly a few dozen soviet ones. Might enjoy replacement planes but its politically sensitive stuff. China or russia don't want to anger Saudis over Yemen. So until there's a regime change in Yemen this may be on hold. If regime change does happen - we may indeed see a dozen trainers and a dozen cheap jets like JF17. But Russia might stall that purchase through the blocked engine sale so they can sell own planes.

has russian 29/25. has j7. could be a candidate. Perhaps half a dozen trainers and a dozen JF17 class jets. Not sure russia would even try to intervene here and stop jf17 sales.

soviet planes two dozen, on paper. May need rebuilding. Could be a race between russia and china to help them rebuild. Some chances for a dozen trainers and two dozen cheap jets. If there'd be no russian limits on JF17, i'd say china has even some greater chances here.

Has some chines transports. some russian, some us. has 6 alpha jets. There might be need for half a dozen new trainers, so China may have some chance there.

Old soviet migs and sukhois 29/25 40 pcs on paper. Could need replacements but Central asia is quite under russian influence. I guess some chance for l15/jf17 or even j10 does exist - but it's small.

old soviet planes 29/25 25 pcs, 12 l39 trainers. Some replacements are quite likely. Russia prefers Armenia to Azerbaijan, so China might have some room here. Perhaps a dozen trainers and two dozen cheap jet fighters are possible.

6 soviet jet fighters. possibly don't fly. Don't see they'd go for more than some trainers.

100+ fighters on paper. 36 yak130 on order, some mig29M2 on order. might need more, but might have no money. And russian influence is pretty strong. I'd say Chinese sales are not likely. If they do materialize, perhaps combat L15s seem most likely, but not over a dozen or two. I guess jf17 class planes also possible, but if russia doesn't block the sale.

39 mig29, 27 su27, 20 su25. they all might need replacement. but russian influence might lower chinese chances. Even if they do buy chinese, i don't see them not buying russian as well. So only a piece of the cake. again smaller jets and trainers.

soviet. 12 su30 on order. has yak130. Strong russian influence. I'd say a no go.

has chinese planes. 5 jl8, 5 j7. Might go for some modernization. but only a few trainer class planes.

has chinese. 10 jf17 on order, su30 on order. jl8 and yak130 on order. They're probably done ordering stuff for the next decade. Maaaybe a small top up order of Jf17 could be expected.

has 4 k8 trainers. 5 coin planes on order. Possible L15 order, but half a dozen at most.

sri lanka
some j7 and kfir. has chinese stuff. some jl8. They could actually go for a decent buy, if there was no Indian factor and political pressure. half a dozen trainers, perhaps up to a dozen light fighters. But given india factor - who knows.

has l39 10 pcs, has 25-50 soviet planes. could indeed go for chinese in the next 10 years. Perhaps 6-12 trainers, double that number of light jets? J10 theoretically possible but I'd say unlikely due to cost.

9 czech trainers. soviet helos. 10 su30 on order. a few dozen soviet fighters. Is already ordering russian. though given the large flankers, there may be room for some JF17 or L15 orders. Probably not more than a dozen each.

has chinese transport and helos and us transport and euro helos. has 17 f5. Could go Chinese. Maybe a dozen cheap planes?

PART 2 in the next post.


VIP Professional
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This is an interesting one. I can't see them buying russian, due to internal politics. They might want to buy western but likely have no money. And we've actually seen reluctance to the west arming ukraine, when it comes to hand me downs. So china MAY have some chance here. But they money may be so bad and western pressure so great that again flashy purchases like J10 are unlikely. I could see chinese trainers, though. Not sure about JF17. Hard to asses numbers. A dozen? Several dozen?

20 su30 on order. a dozen soviet more. has old l39 trainers. Likely done buying fighter jets. Likely will go for yak130. Don't think China will be able to squeeze in.

recently got new stuff. f16, t50, l159. perhaps su25 can be replaced? Chinese stuff has been bought before so politically its not an issue. But other than L15 class planes, a dozen or so, i don't think it's likely.

has few dozen soviet. 30 su30. has 30 l39. Due to politics with China, i'd say any purchase is unlikely. They will stick to Russia.

JF17 program goes well, though I'd assume China earns less on each JF17 made/assembled in Pakistan for Pakistan than on any export JF17s (which i assume China may get 50% on?) Still, we'll likely see several dozen more JF17s procured.
And heavier jets are quite likely as well. Will those be J10 or even something FC31 related - remains to be seen. A dozen or two before 2030s seems quite likely to me. And a few dozen trainers likely.

A dozen alpha jets. mig29 and rafale on rder. 200 f16 will need gradual replacement though. has 119 k8 trainers! and l39 trainers. Egypt will need a steady stream of new planes. Russia will definitely try to sell own. and possibly even stop jf17 sales if engine can be blocked. I'd say China has good chances of selling trainers in 2030s but not before 2030s, as K8s will likely last. Still, there's decent chance of eitehr JF17, J10 or even FC31 related plane to be sold. Depends on whether there will be further rafale purchases which could prevent the FC31 idea. Perhaps up to dozens of Jf17 or J10 could be sold though.

36 j7, 8 su30 ordered, 8 mig29., 14 yak130 but 10 k8 and some l39. Seems to be buying both russian and chinese so some JF17 and trainers are possible. Perhaps even 2-3 dozen? Not sure about J10 as money may not be there after Su30 purchases.

recently got t50. don't seem to be keen on expanding.

South africa
gripens. western influence is strong. i'd say a no go for chinese purchase.

18 su30, 8 hornets, 12 hawk. 12 hawk macchi trainers. Could see them buying Chinese L15 class trainers. perhaps even up to two dozen.

12 alpha jets. 9 j7. 3 jf17 on order. 20 jet trainers need replacement. I'd say they'll top up the JF17 order, so another 6-9 planes are quite likely. Perhaps up to two dozen trainer jets could also be bought.

19 alpha jets. 30 f5. l39 trainers. some t50 ordered. has lots of f16s, gripens
Goes both ways, as it has bought chinese stuff before. And does have planes to replace. China should have a decent chance of taking a piece of the pie. Perhaps selling a few dozen trainers. Perhaps even a few dozen JF17 or J10. If J10, i don't see more than two dozen.

5 su27, 11 su30. 15 t50. 24 hawk 200. has chinese uavs. They could go for Chinese. so two dozen L15s and even half a dozen or a dozen J10s might be possible.
Will buy own stuff.

Due to politics with china, is a no go for chinese purchases.
Saudi Arabia
Soemtimes it's labeled as a potential buyer for FC31 derived plane, as the west allegedly won't seell F35. But frankly, i don't think it's likely. And any other class is likely not needed, and would be procured from the west.

The big unknown. It all very much depends on international politics. could remain under sanctions for another decade. or Russia and china could sell it LOTS of planes. If they, say, split the buy, I see a need and money to buy perhaps 100-200 planes. So a few dozen trainers and a few dozen J17 or J10 class planes are quite possible. Theoretically even FC31 is possible.
Will likely be flying the f16s into 2030s but dozens of them will be 40-ish years old by 2030. and 40ish F4 need urgent replacement. While a lot depends on whether the political leaning away from the west continues, i do believe Turkey will keep away from the west (and west from turkey). So russia and china are obvious choices here. Turkish own aerospace can't produce a fighter jet in the next 10 years.
If we assume Russia and China both have 50-50 chances, perhaps we might see a split buy. So heavier planes from Russia and J-10 buys from china? Perhaps several dozen ? Also, lots of trainers might need replacements. So again some dozens of L15 class planes possible.

Keep in mind, buying something up to 2030 doesn't mean getting planes delivered, but merely signing the contract. So in some of these cases deliveries might take to 2035 or later.

I'll try to sum all this up now:
Without counting Iran and Turkey, as the two big unknowns,
I cam sum it up to:
144 to 264 possible JF17 sales (also doesn't count Pakistan orders)
36-96 possible J10 sales
12-24 possible FC31 related sales
24-36 combat L15/ftc2000 sales
228-288 jet trainer sales (L15 and other)

Turkey and Iran would increase those by
72 jet trainers
72 j10s
0 to 48 FC31 related sales

Of course - all of these figures are just theoretical UPPER limits. All those countries may go western, or russian or even decide not to buy as many, due to limited budget.

So... if one thinks that China can get one third of the said market,
then the actual sold/contracted planes list might look like this:
48 to 98 JF17 (excluding Pakistan)
12 to 32 J10
4 to 8 FC31 related
8 to 12 combat L15/ftc2000 sales
76 to 96 jet trainers

And if one ADDS the Turkey and Iran possibility as a 100% chance (since we already excluded the west and already split the buy with the Russia) those might change to:
48 to 98 JF17 (excluding Pakistan)
84 to 104 J10
4 to 56 FC31 related
8 to 12 combat L15/ftc2000 sales
148 to 168 jet trainers

Of course, as all this is conjecture - China mind end up selling more or less than that number. But even so, at least a few hundred jet aircraft does seem like a likely minimum to be exported by 2030.

Viktor Jav

Senior Member
Registered Member
IMO, it is not very likely that China would try to actively market fighters to Iran. This is because the ME is separated into 2 camps right now with Israel and Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other (with possibly Iraq), with various other ME nations in the middle. To sell fighters to Iran would mean jeopardizing relations and trade with Israel and Saudi Arabia which are much more substantial in comparison to Iran.

Julio Ramos

Junior Member
Registered Member
Sri Lanka have received a credit for Russia to buy half a dozen of Su-30's.
You can ask why such a little country went for a big twin engined plane and not smaller ones (Mig-29, J-10 or JF-17) but with the credit approval, the deal looks firm.

Viktor Jav

Senior Member
Registered Member
Sri Lanka have received a credit for Russia to buy half a dozen of Su-30's.
You can ask why such a little country went for a big twin engined plane and not smaller ones (Mig-29, J-10 or JF-17) but with the credit approval, the deal looks firm.
That rumor has been floating around since 2017 and now its 2020.

And I never understand the whole credit loan for buying weapons idea. It is quite literally giving someone your own money so they can buy your own goods. You might as well hand the money straight to Sukhoi in this case.