The Sukhoi Su-35S is considered by many experts to be the most powerful in the Russian air force, thanks to its incredible maneuverability, equipped with many modern sensors and weapons.
The Sukhoi Su-35, the designation of NATO Flanker-E, is the most modern aircraft in the Russian air force today. It represents the ultimate design of the fourth generation fighter jets. Until Russia completes the fifth generation of aircraft, the Su-57, Su-35 will play a key role in the Russian air force. It has traditionally been thought that Russian fighter jets are often cheaper than the West, but the Su-35 is a different story. It can be seen that the price for China of this fighter is even higher than the US F-35, which is estimated to cost $104 million for each Su-35. The advantage of the Su-35 is that any customer can access this fighter, as long as they pay.
China is currently the only foreign customer of the Su-35. Indonesia is also ordering 11 Su-35s worth $1.15 billion, despite pressure from the US. Most recently, Russia succeeded in reaching an agreement to supply Egypt with more than 20 Su-35s with a total contract value of over $2 billion. Other potential customers of the Su-35 could be India, Turkey and other countries with close ties to Russia. It can be seen that the Su-35 fighter line is becoming a chicken laying golden eggs for Russia, becoming a significant source of foreign currency for Russia’s defense industry.
The Su-35 was developed from the Su-27 Flanker, a Soviet design from the Cold War era to confront the F-15. The development history of the Su-35 was quite complex. The first prototype was launched in 1989, essentially a modernized multitasking version from the Su-27S airframe platform. Sukhoi design institute named the project code T-10M, the original prototype was named Su-27M, later changed to Su-35. Characteristic of the original Su-35 is the pair of canards on the front. The designers must add these wings to ensure the lift and maneuverability of the aircraft, because the new radar and electronic systems are heavier than the original Su-27S.
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Due to economic difficulties after the Soviet Union disintegrated, Russia produced only 15 of these Su-35s. Some of these were still used as a test platform for the later PAK-FA stealth fighter project. The technologies from the T-10M project were also applied to the two-seat Su-30MK with a series of export versions sold to dozens of countries around the world. The current Su-35 model no longer has canards, codenamed T-10BM and was designated Su-35S. This is the most advanced fighter variant based on the Su-27, redesigned almost entirely. This project was started in 2003, the first prototype was launched in 2007, the first flight was on February 19, 2008, and was mass produced since 2009.
The design of this aircraft not only inherited the unique shape of the Su-27, but also perfectly inherited the powerful weapon system of the Su-30. The important thing is that the Su-35 has extremely flexible maneuverability, so it always receives the attention of countries around the world.
Su-35S is capable of performing impossible flight techniques, this is partly achieved by using a thrust vector control. The exhaust of the Saturn AL-41F1S jet engine that can move independently in different directions during flight to support maneuverability. Most modern Russian fighters use three-dimensional thrust vector control technology, such as Su-30SM, Su-35S, Su-57, MiG-35, etc. The F-22 is the only Western-made fighter equipped with thrust vector control technology to increase maneuverability, but is limited to 2D form.
Witnessing the incredible maneuvers of the Su-35, many Western military experts likened this fighter to UFOs from aliens. Su-35S can reach a maximum speed of 2,400 km/h, equivalent to F-22 and faster than F-35 or F-16. It is also said to be able to cruise supersonic, reaching supersonic speeds without enabling afterburner. The service ceiling of Su-35S is 18,000m, equivalent to F-15 and F-22, 3000m higher than F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and F-35. The range of the Su-35S is 3,600 km with internal fuel tank and 4,500 km with two auxiliary fuel tanks. The airframe is made of lightweight titanium material, with a lifespan of about 6,000 flight hours. For comparison, the F-22 and F-35 have an airframe durability of approximately 8,000 flight hours.
Su-35S is not really stealth, however, the adjustment of air intakes and cockpit glass, as well as the use of radar absorbing material has reduced the radar cross-section of the Su-35S by half compared to the previous Su-27. This may reduce enemy’s detection and lock target range, but the Su-35S is still not a real stealth fighter.
Su-35 has 12 hard points, capable of carrying a total of 8 tons of weapons. At long range, the Su-35 can use the Vympel R-77 guided radar missile, which is believed to have a range of 110 to 200 km. In short-range combat, R-73 air-to-air missiles will be used. A helmet-mounted display allows pilots to lock the target in the view, rather than having to point the aircraft’s nose towards the target. Medium-range R-27 and long-range R-37 missiles can deal with airborne early warning and control aircraft as well as refueling aircraft. The Su-35S is also equipped with a 30mm GSh-30-1 automatic cannon with 150 rounds for aerial combat or ground attack. In addition to air-to-air weapons, the Su-35S can use the entire arsenal of bombs and air-to-surface missiles on the Russian military payroll, including many high-precision and powerful weapons such as laser-guided or TV-guided bombs, Kh-29TE Air-to-surface missiles, Kh-59, Kh-31 or Kh-35 anti-ship missiles.
The most important improvements of the Su-35S compared to the Su-27 lie in the sensor and electronic systems. The N035 Irbis-E passive electronically scanned array radar is thought to be better at detecting and tracking stealth aircraft than older radar, it can track 30 targets at the same time. However, the passive electronically scanned array radar is thought to be more susceptible to jamming than the active electronically scanned array radar fitted to Western fighters. The aircraft is also equipped with the powerful L175M Khibiny electronic countermeasures system, which helps jam radar and deflect enemy missiles.
The Russian Air Force is the largest operating force of Su-35S fighters in the world with 48 aircraft in service. Another 50 have been ordered from January 2016 and will be produced on a schedule of 10 per year. It can be said that the Su-35S has similar features, even surpassing the best 4th generation Western fighters. But the ability to confront the fifth generation fighters like the F-22 or F-35 of this aircraft is still a big question mark.