Russia’s Su-35 Super-Flanker: Mystery Fighter No More
September 16/16: It’s been revealed that China will be taking delivery of four Su-35 fighters by the end of 2016. The disclosure was made by the Governor of Khabarovsk Territory Vyacheslav Shport during the opening of a production plant. Some experts mark the Su-35 as a potential rival for the F-15, Eurofighter, and Rafale fighters.
The Russian Su-35 was something of a mystery for many years. Pictures from Russian firms showed different fighter jets carrying that label, even as the aircraft remained a prospective design and research project, rather an active program of record.
Revelations after 2007 began to provide answers. This article explains the sources of the widespread confusion regarding the Su-35’s layout and key characteristics, reviews what is now known about the platform, and tracks its development. Those developments are likely to have broad consequences. The aircraft now has a home customer in the Russian Air Force, and the Su-35 is being positioned to replace most Su-30MK variants as Russia’s fighter export of choice within the coming decade. Will its succession bid succeed?
Which Sukhoi? The SU-35 Platform
As one of our readers noted, DID’s articles from 2005-2007 seem to describe 2 different SU-35s. One was a mid-life modernized SU-27 Flanker, but there’s also a much more re-engineered “SU-35” variant with canards, thrust vectoring, etc. which has been confused with (and possibly redesignated between) the SU-37. So… what do we mean by “SU-35”?
Until very recently, only KnAAPO had listed the SU-35 as a product on its site; Sukhoi now does so as well, but Irkut does not. If this seems confusing, it’s because Sukhoi subcontracts production to affiliate firms – IAIA (Irkut) and KnAAPO (Komsomolosk un Amur). Each has their own intellectual property, and their own interests. In addition, the designation “SU-35” has been used in several different contexts over the years. It has been referred to, and even photographed, in ways that referred to both mid-life Flanker upgrades, and canard-equipped next-generation aircraft. KnAAPO’s site added the confusion by showing SU-35 pictures on its type page and gallery that display the aircraft both with and without canard foreplanes.
The current “SU-35”, which has been definitively described by Sukhoi, appears to be something of a compromise between the upgrade and full redesign visions. Reader assistance, and sources from Sukhoi and various media, offer an outline of its key systems and characteristics.
“…(known as Su-35BM by some sources- ie. T-10BM to the original Su-27s internal T-10S designation). Differences and features largely speak for themselves in the video, but a short summary follows as related in various other sources follows:
1 – N035 Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) Radar, a follow-on to the Bars-M.
2 – No canards
3 – Rear-looking self-defense radar in shorter tail sting
4 – AL-37FU/ 117S thrust-vectoring turbofan engines rated at 142-147kN
5 – Extended high-lift devices with large flaperon occupying the full trailing edge of the wing
6 – L175M Khibiny-M electronic-warfare self-defense system
7 – Reduced-area empennage
8 – Larger Air Intakes
9 – New and lighter systems, including quadruple digital fly-by-wire flight-control system.
10- New man-machine interface with fully-glass cockpit with two large LCD screens and helmet mounted display.”
Sukhoi says that the fighter’s structures have been reinforced because of the increased takeoff and landing weight of the aircraft, and the front bearing has 2 wheels for the same reason. Performance is touted as 1,400 km/h (Mach 1.14) at sea-level, and 2,400 km/h (Mach 2.26) at altitude, with a ceiling up to 10 km/ 60,000 feet. Sukhoi has not touted loaded supercruise (Mach 1+, with weapons and without afterburners), which is likely to require improved engines. Thrust vectoring adds new dimensions of maneuverability, however, once pilots understand when to use it and when to avoid it.
The SU-35S will also depend on its sensors. It couples an electronically-scanned array radar with a 2-step electro-hydraulic drive unit, which creates a maximum radar beam deflection angle of 120 degrees. The NIIP Tikhomirov Irbis-E passive phased-array can reportedly detect and tracks up to 30 air targets, simultaneously engaging up to 8. It can also reportedly detect, choose and track up to 4 ground targets, and engage 2. Detection ranges of over 400 km/ 240 miles have been reported for airborne targets, which are the easiest, but resolutions are unspecified. Detecting a 747 passenger jet at 400 km is much easier than detecting a JAS-39 Gripen lightweight fighter, and information about the radar’s resolution would be needed before its real capabilities would be clear.
Full stealth jets like the F-22A Raptor, of course, create drastic reductions in radar detection range that make them a special case. In an emerging age of stealth fighters, therefore, the 80+ km detection range of the SU-35S’ IRST (infra-red search and track) system is very significant.
The SU-30 family has never been especially stealthy, and their overall airframe design limits what one can accomplish in this area. Nevertheless, Sukhoi cites an unspecified amount of “reduced reflectance” for the SU-35 in the X-band, which is a popular choice for modern radars, and in the angle range of plus or minus 60 degrees. Further improvements were made during testing by adding radar-absorbent materials, and removing or modifying protruding sensors that create radar reflection points.
The reported service life of the new aircraft is 6,000 flight hours, with a planned operational life of 30 years. The claimed service life of NPO Saturn 117S thrust-vectoring engines is 4,000 hours. Time will tell.
SU-35: Export Prospects
The SU27/30 Flanker family was designed and built after American had completed its “teen series” (F-14/15/16/18) fighters, and uses lessons from those designs as well as Russia’s own approaches. The result was a very extensible design that boasted impressive performance, and quickly became the global fighter reference point among global military planners. Exports followed, and Flanker variants quickly surpassed the MiG-29 as Russia’s most popular export fighter.
The SU-35 aims to build on that legacy, as a final bridge to the 5th generation PAK-FA. Three key changes to Sukhoi’s circumstances may make a similar level of export success much more difficult.
1. A globalized market.
When it was first introduced, the S-27 family was the main global competitor to any western offerings, and was sold to countries whose ties and access to western technologies were weak. An array of SU-27s were gifted to breakaway Soviet satellites by virtue of being located on their territory, but India and China were its real anchor export customers. Now, SU-35 exports can expect to compete on 2 fronts. On the one hand, a less balkanized global market means that it must compete globally with western offerings that include upgraded American “teen series” fighters; and matured 4+ generation European designs that include Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen, France’s Rafale, and EADS’ Eurofighter. On the other end, it will be competing with Chinese offerings, including the J-11 that Russia correctly accuses China of copying/deriving from the SU-27, the smaller and less expensive 4+ generation J-10, and even the joint Chinese/Pakistani JF-17.
2. The China factor
China has a large inventory of SU-30MKKs, but it’s less than they contracted to produce. They’re also pressing ahead with their own J-11B, which substitutes Chinese electronics, radars, and engines in an SU-27 family airframe. Russia is very upset by this theft of its intellectual property, which has reportedly hindered sales of its carrier-capable SU-33 variant into the Chinese market.
The J-11 has run into some problems, in particular China’s inability to copy Russian engine performance. That has made exports to China thinkable again for some Russian officials, but the J-11 experience remains a barrier to further Chinese sales on both sides of the table. A preliminary agreement has reportedly been signed to negotiate a 24 plane sale, but it’s controversial. China’s questionable status among the roster of future SU-35 customers, and its certain presence as an export competitor, both create more difficult dynamics for SU-35 export success.
3. Other decisions by key markets.
With Eastern European countries no longer buying Russian equipment, the Flanker family’s key export markets likely closed, and key emerging markets that have decided to go in different directions, the SU-35’s export potential is likely to be much more limited than its predecessors.
India has fielded, and continues to field, the SU-30MKI, a design that includes locally-built electronics, canard foreplanes, and full thrust vectoring. Malaysia has ordered a less customized SU-30MKM variant that uses Russian and French technologies instead. Both of these designs are highly capable, and comparable to the SU-35. India in particular is unlikely to upgrade, as it continues to produce the SU-30MKI and expects to do so for several more years. That removes a major potential market, and this design is even filtering back into Russian orders, as the SU-30SM.
Elsewhere, South Korea has opted for American F-15Ks instead of the SU-35 or European fighters for its F-X buy, and their next competition has skipped the SU-35 to invite the next-generation PAK-FA/ future SU-50. Saudi Arabia, which has become more receptive to purchases from Russia, bought Eurofighters as the future of their air force. Brazil, which could have significantly expanded Russia’s Latin American penetration, did not shortlist the SU-35 for the final round of its F-X2 future fighter competition.
The Middle East offers limited opportunities for Russian fighters these days, with some potential among long-standing clients in Libya, Syria, and possibly Iran, but competition from France’s Rafale in particular must be expected in Libya, in the wake of Gadhaffi’s ouster. Assuming that Libya buys any high-end fighters at all over the next decade. The SU-35 could be useful to other countries in the Middle East, but most are already committed to other suppliers. Success is possible, and it would be important to the platform, but any win would require a breakthrough.
The newly oil-rich countries around Africa’s Gulf of Guinea offer easier opportunities, but sales will face competition from China, as well as from the west.
Emerging South Asian markets like Indonesia and Vietnam also offer promise, and are less inclined to buy either Chinese or western fighters, but initial orders from that quarter have involved earlier-generation SU-27/30s, and future orders are likely to be limited.
Overall, the numbers add up far less favorably for the SU-35 than they did for its earlier cousins.
SU-35: Contracts and Key Events
Opportunities: Indonesia; Why is Russia buying Su-30SMs and Su-35s?
September 16/16: It’s been revealed that China will be taking delivery of four Su-35 fighters by the end of 2016. The disclosure was made by the Governor of Khabarovsk Territory Vyacheslav Shport during the opening of a production plant. Some experts mark the Su-35 as a potential rival for the F-15, Eurofighter, and Rafale fighters.
September 7/16: Progress has been made in talks between Pakistan and Russia over the purchase of the Su-35 fighters. Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Qazi Khalilullah called the talks “fruitful” adding that Islamabad “is considering different options of deepening cooperation with Russia.”
June 10/16: The Indonesian ambassador to Russia, Mohamad Wahid Supriyadi, has told Russian media that his country’s talks with Moscow over the purchase of eight Su-35 multi-role fighters is drawing to a close. With the main negotiations over, the deal now complete, the talks have now moved to discuss the matter of transferring technology from Russia to Indonesia. Indonesian laws require that any military pronouncements are supplemented by the transfer of technology, something Supriyadi claims has not been an issue for the Russians.
May 23/16: Rumors that Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s trip to meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin would involve discussions over an acquisition of Su-35 fighters have been dismissed by the Indonesian Foreign Minister. Retno Marsudi denied that any discussions over the fighter took place, with defense talks revolving around increased security cooperation, including information exchanges as well as technology transfer related to the purchase of weaponry.
May 5/16: Inking of contracts between Indonesia and Russia for eight Su-35 fighters is to occur at the end of the month. Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu made the announcement on Tuesday, saying the signing will coincide with the visit to Russia of President Joko Widodo from May 19-20 during the Russia-ASEAN Summit. Jakarta’s new signing follows on the purchase of 24 Su-27/30 aircraft as part of its drive to modernize its fleet.
April 1/16: A request has been made by Algeria to test the Su-35 as a number of countries have expressed interest in the fighter. This adds a new dimension to the negotiations surrounding the purchase of Su-32 bombers which started last November, expected to cost between $500-600 million. After the Algerian Air Force’s testing of the Su-35, it’s expected they would purchase at least ten of the fighters, which would come with a price tag of around $900 million.
March 11/16: Indonesia will not see delivery of their first Su-35 before 2018. Large scale orders for both domestic and foreign exports has created a production backlog. The Russian military will receive 50 of the multi-purpose fighters, while China has ordered 24. With Jakarta expecting ten of their own, manufacturer Sukhoi said that Indonesia could expect their first two jets in 2018 in a best case scenario. When they eventually are delivered, the planes will go toward replacing the aging F-5 Tiger fleet.
March 7/16: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has approved the purchase of between eight and ten Su-35 fighters. A finalized price and deal will be confirmed during Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu’s visit to Moscow next month, and could cost between $400-700 million depending on the final number and additional options. The planes will go toward replacing the air force’s obsolete F-5 fleet which has been in service for 30 years.
February 22/16: Speculation surrounding Indonesia’s fighter modernization have been put to rest. Jakarta looks set to sign a contract for around a dozen Su-35s to replace its aging Northrop F-5 fighters, and supplement a fleet of 16 Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 fighters that form the backbone of its air force. Russian officials from the plane’s manufacturer United Aircraft Corporation refused to comment on the sale at last week’s Singapore Air Show, but it’s been reported that some of the components for the Su-35 could be made indigenously by Indonesian firms. Contracts for the deal could be ready and signed within a month’s time.
February 11/16: A deal to buy Su-35S Super Flankers will be signed by Indonesia’s defense minister next month when he visits Moscow. General Ryamizard Ryacudu said they would buy ten of the aircraft after it was initially reported that Jakarta would look to buy 16 to replace their fleet of fleet of Northrop F-5Es. His visit to Russia will also include discussions over pilot training and knowledge transfers as well as talks on increasing cooperation in defense, drug trafficking and counter terrorism.
January 18/16: China will receive its first batch of Su-35 fighters by the fourth quarter of this year with completion due in the next three years. It’s unknown how many will be delivered in 2016, but twenty-four fighters have been ordered in total at a cost of $2 billion. Beijing is the first foreign customer of the latest multi-role jet, although there have been fears that the purchase is only being made in order to reverse engineer key technologies for China’s own indigenous fighters.
January 13/16: United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) is to supply fifty more of their Su-35 fighters to the Russian Army. When delivered, this will bring the number of the jets in operation by the Russians to ninety-eight. The deal is estimated to be worth between $787-800 million. UAC subsidiary Sukhoi, who manufactures the jets, looks to have a busy 2016 ahead as the order from the defense ministry adds to a recent agreement to export twelve Su-32 bombers to Algeria.
November 30/15: The Chinese ministry of defense has confirmed the the $2 billion purchase of Su-35 fighters from Russia. China’s plan to also purchase the S-400 missile defense system is also going ahead smoothly according to Colonel Wu Qian and will generate another $3 billion in revenue for Russia. While arms sales between China and Russia are nothing new, the sale of Russia’s most developed military technologies to China represents a policy shift within the Kremlin primarily brought on by financial necessity.
Indonesia has announced that it will order 12 Su-35 fighters following the the $2 billion sale of the aircraft to China last week. The fighters will replace the 16 F-5 Tigers which have been in service since 1980. The Su-35 saw competition from the Lockheed Martin F-16 Viper. The Indonesian Air Force also operate the Su-30 in its fleet and already have an existing maintenance system that will be compatible with the new Su-35.
November 25/15: Russia is to install communications systems for China as part of the $2 billion sale of Su-35 fighters. The deal includes the delivery and installation of the NKVS-27 communications system which will begin in 2016. The delivery of the 24 fighters will follow in 2017. It has been speculated that the Chinese may attempt to reverse engineer and copy the design of the aircraft as it did Su-27SK and could include the communications system. The NKVS-27 is designed to ensure information interaction between CPs and crews of any aircraft. Interaction may be by means of conversations through voice communications radio networks as well as data exchange through data exchange radio networks.
November 20/15: China has signed a substantial contract with Russia to purchase 24 Sukhoi Su-35 fighters in a deal that is said to be worth $2 billion. The agreement comes shortly after speculation that a number of countries were interested in purchasing the advanced fighters, including Pakistan, Indonesia and UAE, during the Dubai Air Show. This comes at an important time for Russia who have been suffering economically from falling oil prices and frosty trade relations with western nations and Ukraine. Arms sales have been one constant in this rather bleak financial outlook as the Kremlin looks to find new buyers for its military technologies.
Following China and their inking of contracts for the Sukhoi Su-35 fighters, the Indonesian ambassador to Russia has announced that they too are interested in making a purchase. Ambassador Djauhari Oratmangun told news agency RIA Novosti that a delegation will be sent from Russia to Jakarta to discuss contracts for the purchase of a number of the aircraft. No further details about the deal are known but seem to be part of a plan to increase trade between the two in 2016 by $5 billion.
November 9/15: The United Arab Emirates is engaged in talks with Russia over a potential acquisition of Su-35s, according to Ria Novosti. The discussions are taking place at the Dubai Air Show, with Pakistan also thought to be considering an acquisition of the type, and China and Indonesia also possible export customers for the Su-35.
September 11/15: Pakistan and Russia are reportedly in talks over the supply of Su-35 fighters and Mi-35M helicopters, according to both Pakistani and Russian press reports Thursday. The sale of Mil Mi-35M helicopters was also reported in August, with it unclear whether current negotiations are a continuation of this previous contract or a new one entirely. The two countries signed a bilateral military cooperation agreement last November, with the fourth-generation Sukhoi Su-35 also eyeing potential export customers in China and Indonesia.
Oct 10/14: Delivery. Another batch delivery from Sukhoi, SU-35 and SU-30M2 fighters for Russia’s VVF, handed over at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aviation plant.
Note that the SU-30M2 is the “standard” SU-30, as opposed to Irkut’s SU-30SM which is based on the canard-winged SU-30MKM. Sources: Sukhoi, “Sukhoi handed over a batch of Su-35 and Su-30M2 aircraft to the Ministry of Defense”.
Oct 7/14: Indonesia. Indonesian Military Commander General Moeldoko tells Republika Online that they’re leaning toward the Su-35 as their F-5 replacement, with the JAS-39 in 2nd place and the F-16 a distant 3rd:
“Menurut dia, jet tempur buatan negeri Paman Sam itu sudah tidak layak pakai lantaran teknologinya sudah ketinggalan zaman…. “Untuk udara, ada pengajuan penggantian F-5. Sukhoi Su-35 menjadi pilihan pertama, Saab JAS 39 Gripen pilihan kedua, dan pesawat F-16 pilihan ketiga,”…”
This isn’t the end, because negotiations, budgets and other considerations will still come into play. If that pick does stand, it would keep the Flanker family as the backbone of the TNI-AU, but the fleet would also be fragmented among 3+ types with partial commonality at best: 5 Su27SKM, 11 Su-30 (2 MKs, 9 MK2s), and 16 Su-35SK. The Su-27SKM and Su-30MK fighters will retire first, which will simplify matters, but that’s unlikely to happen before 2025 or so. Sources: ROL, “Helikopter Apache dan Sukhoi Su-35 Segera Perkuat TNI”.
Feb 21/14: No mystery. “Russia’s New Air Force Is a Mystery” wonders why Russia is buying SU-30MK2s, SU-30SMs and SU-35s, in addition to the future PAK-FA. It turns out that the answer is extremely simple: industrial priorities that bought up aircraft the Chinese stopped buying, took advantage of successful advanced SU-30MKx export developments, and aim to provide the SU-35 with a home country order base for potential exports. That sort of thing happens all the time, everywhere. The article ends up stinging itself with this quote re: the PAK-FA:
“The T-50’s schedule has stretched farther and farther to the right. Originally planned for handover to the air force’s Akhtubinsk flight test center for evaluation in 2014, recent announcements suggest this might now slip until the second half of 2016. This would derail plans to declare initial operational capability, and the start of full-scale production, at the end of 2016.
The best-case scenario would have seen 60 production T-50s delivered between 2016 and 2020, but this now seems a distant hope. As a result, the air force is badly in need of supplementary equipment.”
The 1st PAK-FA/ T-50 arrives in Akhtubinsk for testing that same day, but even if the new stealth fighters arrive on time, Russia will still need more warplanes to replace its aging force. Sources: War Is Boring, “Russia’s New Air Force Is a Mystery”.
Jan 7/14: Indonesia. Indonesia wants to replace its 11 remaining F-5E/F Tiger II light fighters with 16 modern aircraft. Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro confirmed that they “have received proposals from several jet fighter manufacturers,” and are evaluating them. Indonesian Military Commander General Moeldoko added that the TNI-AU has studied the SU-35, F-16, F-15, and JAS-39 Gripen.
Moeldoko wants the requisition plan included in Indonesia’s Strategic Plan II for the 2015 – 2020, but the air force’s choice will also depend on available funds. The F-15 is significantly more expensive than other options, and if the air force wants 16 fighters, the state of Indonesia’s economy will influence what they can buy.
There are always extraneous considerations in Indonesia. Still, if commonality matters, the F-16 is the only fighter currently in Indonesia’s inventory. The F-15 and JAS-39 are used by its neighbors, and have Asian support networks in place. Picking the SU-35 seems odd, as it would leave Indonesia vulnerable to becoming the 1st export customer, while worsening the fragmentation within an already-split Flanker fleet. Still, the existing SU-30MK fleet is a known quantity, which means the SU-35 is the only variant would require study for a full consideration of their options. Sources: Antara News, “Defense Ministry looking to replace aging F-5 tiger fighter aircraft”.
2011 – 2013
Russia buys SU-30SMs; Russian plans to 2020; Final SU-35S model flies; Libya derailment; China impasse unblocks, but still no deal.
May 20/13: Brazil. RIA Novosti quotes Rosoboronexport’s SITDEF exhibition lead Sergey Ladigin, who says they’ve offered to deliver Su-35 fighters and Pantsir S1 air defense systems to Brazil outside the framework of a tender, and says the offer is being considered.
Brazil wants the Pantsir short-range air defense gun/missile systems, but the SU-35 failed to make the shortlist in 2009. On the other hand, if you don’t ask, you’ll never get. So Russia’s is throwing in the SU-35 offer, and Ladigin said in Lima that they were “ready to transfer 100% of manufacturing technologies,” as well as some technologies from their T50 (future SU-50?) stealth fighter.
March 26/13: China. Media reports say that a deal has been signed for 24 SU-35 fighters, and 4 advanced Amur/Lada Class submarines, during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia.
Defence News claims that “During a recent visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow from Friday to Sunday, no discussions took place regarding “military-technical cooperation” issues, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported Monday.” Our Russian isn’t very good, but the Google Translate version simply quotes the CCTV report of a deal, while saying that there were no problems regarding military-technical cooperation issues. Defense News also quotes outside observers within Russia; readers will have to make up their own minds. ITAR-Tass [in Russian] | CCTV [in Chinese] | South China Morning Post | Defense News | International Business Times.
March 7/13: China confirmed. China and Russia have apparently signed an intergovernmental agreement, as the 1st step toward a contract for 24 SU-35s. Reports credibly place the agreement date as January 2013, but contract negotiations could take a while.
A trickle of reports from November 2012 to February claimed that Russia and China had a preliminary agreement in place, which would let them negotiate a deal for varying numbers of SU-35s. Russia’s Interfax confirmed the existence and date of that agreement in February 2013, but didn’t specify numbers. Now, a March 8/13 article in The Hindu confirms that talks involve 24 planes, a climbdown from Russia’s initial insistence on 48.
The Russians are said to have more confidence that China can’t copy their engines, and are also said to need SU-35 orders. Russia has placed an initial contract, but a deal with Libya fell by the wayside when its regime did, Venezuela has pulled back, and even Russia’s VVS is ordering follow-on buys of SU-30SMs instead. On the other side, there’s speculation that SU-35’s improved AL-117S engine could be “of interest” for China’s J-20 stealth plane. If so, it would be a setback to India on 2 fronts: breaking an old pattern by selling China a more modern fighter than India’s SU-30MKIs, and strengthening a competitor to the Indo-Russian PAK-FA stealth fighter project. South China Morning Post | Defense News | Voice of Russia | The Hindu.
China agreement to negotiate
April 17/12: China. RIA Novosti quotes Russian state-controlled arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on Tuesday, who says that the 18+ month long negotiations to sell Su-35s to China have been put on hold. The Chinese only wanted to buy a few, and the Russians weren’t interested in selling them a few templates for Chinese copying efforts.
Rosoboronexport deputy chief Viktor Komardin characterized Russia as wanting “a large consignment to make [the deal] economically viable.” Translation: China would have to buy large numbers of SU-35s, under a contract with strict and enforceable cancellation penalties. See also Nov 16/10 entry.
March 30/12: Russia plans. Russian Air Force commander Gen. Alexander Zelin discusses their aircraft acquisition plans under Russia’s Weapons Program 2011-2020. Those plans include about 100 SU-35 and SU-30SM fighters put together, and their conflation could be a worrying sign. The VVS also expects to field 60 Sukhoi PAKFA (T-50) stealth fighters by 2020, and intends to buy 140 SU-34 long range strike fighters.
The SU-35’s future may ride on how many of the 70 remaining VVS orders before 2020 request it, instead of more SU-30SMs. AIN Online. See also March 16/10 entry.
March 23/12: Russian setback. Russia’s own VVS moves to buy 30 SU-30SM fighters, for delivery by 2015. These planes are a version of the canard-winged, thrust-vectoring SU-30MKI/M variant that was developed for India, and has since been exported to Algeria and Malaysia. Which raises the question: why didn’t Russia buy 30 more SU-35S fighters? A RIA Novosti article offers one explanation:
“Irkut has been churning out these planes for 10 years thanks to its completely streamlined production method. This means that its products are of high quality, relatively cheap… and will be supplied on time.
It is one thing if, in order to make 30 aircraft, you have to breathe life into an idling plant, to fine-tune (or develop anew) your technological method, buy additional equipment, and – still worse – hire personnel. But it’s quite another if you have been manufacturing standardized aircraft for years and years and can easily divert your workforce to produce an “improved” modification for your own country’s Air Force… This approach (buying quickly and on the cheap what can be produced immediately) has been growing in popularity in the Russian military.”
There is a contract for 48 SU-35s, but the production rate doesn’t appear to be very advanced yet. If Bogdanov’s analysis is correct, the SU-35 could have a problem. It would mean that more SU-30SMs become a very attractive near-term choice for the next few years, as Russia’s rearmament program kicks into gear. Farther down the road, the T-50 PAK-FA stealth fighter (likely to become the SU-50), will be a priority after 2016 or so. In that scenario, the SU-35 could find itself starved of budgetary oxygen at home, followed by avoidance abroad in favor of the SU-30MKx models that have already been exported to Algeria, India, and Malaysia.
Sept 19/11: Testing. Sukhoi says that its SU-35 fighters have carried out more than 300 test flights at the 929th State Flight Test Center (GLITS), and offers a number of data points regarding the aircraft.
“The maximum ground-level speed is 1,400 km/h, speed at altitude – 2400 km/h, the ceiling – 18 thousand meters. The detection range of targets in the “air-to-air” mode is over 400 km. This is significantly higher than that of the combat aircraft currently in service. The onboard OLS (optical locator station) can detect and track multiple targets at ranges exceeding 80 km… a new phased antenna array radar with a long aerial target detection range and with an increased number of simultaneously tracked and engaged targets (30 aerial targets tracked and 8 targets engaged plus the tracking of 4 and engagement of 2 ground targets)… The radar signature of the fighter has been reduced by several times as compared to that of the fourth-generation aircraft by coating the cockpit with electro-conducting compounds, applying radio absorption coats and reducing the number of protruding sensors. The service life of the aircraft is 6,000 hours flight hours… The assigned service life of vectored thrust engines is 4,000 hours.”
May 3/11: Final SU-35S model. Sukhoi begins flight tests for its final series production version SU-35S model. Among other things, it marks the program’s recovery from the April 26/09 accident. Sukhoi [in Russian] | Russia’s RIA Novosti | China’s Xinhua | DefenceWeb | Flight International.
Feb 27/11: Libya. Russia’s Interfax news agency says that a recent UN embargo on arms sales to Libya, in the wake of the regime’s military attacks on demonstrators, could cost Russia $4 billion:
“The already-signed arms deals between Moscow and Tripoli amount to $2 billion, while deals for another $1.8 billion are in the final stage of readiness. In January 2010 the two sides agreed on supply of Russia’s small arms, six operational trainers Yak-130 and some armored vehicles for total of $US 1.3 billion. Libya has been supposed to become the first country to get Su-35 fighter jets, the contract to buy 15 jets for $800 million is fully accorded and ready to be signed. Tripoli also expressed interest in buying 10 Ka-52 Alligator assault helicopters, two advanced long range S-300PMU2 Favorit air defense missile system and about 40 short range Panzir C1 air defense complexes for a total over $1 billion. The Libyan military has also discussed possible supply of modern tanks, multiple rocket launcher systems, high speed missile boats etc.”
If the civil war drags on long enough, don’t be surprised to see a number of these potential sales revived, even as other counter-insurgency related equipment steps to the fore. Russia could wind up finds ways to skirt UN sanctions and support its client, something that has been an issue before with countries like Sudan. China could do the same, and has a long history of supporting civil war factions without regard to human suffering or disposition, in exchange for medium-long term resource deals. Russia Today | AFP.
2009 – 2010
Russia orders 48; KnAAPO gets financing; Crash delays program; Opportunities in China, Libya.
Nov 16/10: China. At Airshow China 2010 in Zhuhai, Rosoboronexport Deputy General Director Alexander Mikheyev tells RIA Novosti that Russia is ready to hold talks with China on selling SU-35 fighter aircraft to the Chinese air force. That’s a bit of a surprise, given China’s consistent record of buying, copying, and then competing with Russian technologies – see “The China Factor,” above. On the other hand, Mikheyev also told RIA Novosti that:
“We have made progress in an understanding of [illegal production of Russian arms in China]. Moreover, all the documents concerning the protection of intellectual property have been signed… China does not refuse to discuss these issues, which are primarily a concern for Russia.”
It would be darkly amusing to many in western defense organizations to have Russia fleeced in arms-related agreements, by a country that follows their own pattern of offering paper guarantees, while doing something else.
Sept 20/10: Financing for KnAAPO. Sukhoi Holding Company the Yuri Gagarin Aviation Industrial Concern (KnAAPO) in , Komsomolsk-na-Amure strikes a financing agreement with Sberbank, the Savings Bank of Russia. The agreement will allow the firm to invest in producing the Russian Air Force’s SU-35S orders. Brahmand | Frontier India.
July 23/10: Update. Aviation Week reports from Farnborough 2010. Sukhoi CEO Mikhail Pogosyan says that the Russian air force is still set to take delivery of its first Su-35S by the end of 2010, and the firm issues its own release with test results.
Preliminary testing of Su-35 has now been concluded with 270 flights and 350 flight hours, using 2 rather than 3 aircraft after a fire destroyed one of the prototypes (vid. April 26/09). The NIIP Tikhomirov Irbis passive phased-array radar was also a focus of testing, and moves were made to reduce radar signature by adding radar-absorbent materials and removing protruding sensors. They add:
“Tripoli will likely be the launch export customer [for the SU-35S]. Alexander Mikheev, deputy head of Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms export agency, confirmed at Farnborough that the contract for delivery of undisclosed number of aircraft to Libya, one of the traditional recipients of Soviet armaments, is expected to be signed this year. The first export production slots are available from 2012.”
March 16/10: Russian plans. In “The future of the Russian Air Force: 10 years on“, RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik discusses planned buys and pending recapitalization of the Russian Air Force over the next decade:
“According to various media reports, the Ministry wants to buy at least 1,500 aircraft, including 350 new warplanes, by 2020. The fleet would include 70% new equipment at that point, said Air Force Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Alexander Zelin… The Defense Ministry has now signed contracts for the purchase of 32 Su-34 Fullback advanced fighter-bombers to be delivered by 2013, 48 Su-35 Flanker-E fighters by 2015, 12 Su-27SM Flanker-B Mod. 1 fighters by 2011, 4 Su-30M2 Flanker-C planes by 2011 and 12 Su-25UBM Frogfoot combat trainers. This year, the Defense Ministry intends to sign a contract for the delivery of 26 MiG-29K Fulcrum-D fighters by 2015. Additional contracts for the delivery of at least 80 Su-34s and 24-48 Su-35s are expected to be signed. In all, the Russian Air Force is to receive 240-260 new aircraft of these types. It is hard to say much about the specifications of another 100-110 aircraft, due to be manufactured primarily after 2015. They will probably include 25-30 MiG-35 fighters, another 12-16 Su-30 combat trainers for Su-35 squadrons and 40-60 Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA (Advanced Frontline Aviation Aircraft System) fifth-generation fighters…”
Nov 17/09: Sukhoi announces that it has begun work on Russia’s SU-35S contract.
Nov 15/09: Libya. Interfax quotes Rosoboronexport’s special missions director and Dubai Airshow delegation chief Mikhail Zavaly:
“Libya wants to buy our aircrafts, including Sukhoi fighter jets and Ilyushin Il-76 military airlifters,” Zavaly told Interfax on Sunday. The talks deal with the technical details of the planes offered to Libya, he said. After technical arrangements are approved, “the Russian side will make commercial proposals to Libya,” Zavaly said.”
Oct 19/09: Libya. Russia’s Interfax media agency reports that Libya plans to buy 12-15 Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighters, another 4 Su-30s as an immediate interim order, and 6 Yakovlev Yak-130 trainer and light attack aircraft aircraft. Reports indicate that a contract could be signed with state arms export agency Rosoboronexport by the end of 2009, or early 2010.
Aug 18/09: Russia orders 48. The Russian government signs the SU-35’s inaugural production contract at the Russian MAKS 2009 air show. The Russian Defense Ministry has reportedly signed a contract with Sukhoi to deliver 48 SU-35s by 2015, plus an interim buy of 12 single-seat SU-27SM and 4 dual-seat SU-30M2 multirole fighters by 2011.
RIA Novosti cites “open sources” that estimate the flyaway cost an SU-35 at about $65 million. This contract should be larger, since it’s a new type that must carry the additional costs of training spares stocks, etc. Statements place the contract’s value at “over 80 billion” roubles, where RUB 80 billion is currently about $2.51 billion. The contract follows on the heels of RUB 3.2 billion (about $100 million) in capital injected into Sukhoi, and Vnesheconombank head Vladimir Dmitriyev said the national development bank would grant Sukhoi a 3.5 billion-ruble (about $109 million) loan to start SU-35 production. ITAR-TASS | ITAR-TASS re: loans, contract value | RIA Novosti | RIA Novosti’s Russia Today | domain-b | Flight International.
April 26/09: Crash. An Su-35 burst into flames and exploded before take-off at the Komsomolosk-na-Amure Aviation Production Association (KNAAPO) Dzemgi flight test aerodrome. Yevgeniy Frolov, one Sukhoi’s most experienced pilots, managed to eject safely before the aircraft exploded. The crash may jeopardize the SU-35’s expected appearance over Russia’s May Day festivities, and will delay testing. To make matters worse, this 2nd operational aircraft was carrying a new NIIP Irbis-E radar set, which will require some effort to replace. The Weekly Standard adds:
“Su-35 programme representatives told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the crash was the fault of one of the NPO Saturn 117S engine’s PMC units and not a failure of a fuel pump, as had been previously reported. “One of the engine’s control systems failed and the engine was working at only 93 per cent power,” said the representative.”
March 23/09: Flight #100. KNAAPO announces that the Su-35 has made its 100th flight, during which they conducted final tests of the flight control system. Flight tests began Feb 18/08, and in the second quarter of 2009 another test aircraft is expected to join the current 2-plane fleet.
The firm expects to bring the number of flights up to 150-160 on 3 fighters, allowing them to finish static tests and start the super-maneuverability mode testing with the plane’s thrust-vectoring engines. First deliveries to Russian and foreign customers are still scheduled for 2011.
2007 – 2008
Maiden flight; Eliminated in Brazil.
Oct 2/08: 2nd test plane. Sukhoi says they have started flight tests of the second SU-35 production fighter. “The addition of the second aircraft to the testing program will speed up its completion and ensure the beginning of deliveries to our customers in 2011.”
Since its demonstration flight on July 7/08, the first production aircraft has made over 40 more test flights. RIA Novosti.
Oct 1/08: Brazil loss. Brazil has decided on its 3 finalists: Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, and Saab/BAE’s JAS-39 Gripen.
July 9/08: A Sukhoi release says that it has presented the newest SU-35 multi-role to the “Flight Scientific Research Institute named after Gromov in Zhukovsky near Moscow,” where earlier test flights have taken place.
It adds that the SU-35 is one of the priority programs of the new United Aviation Corporation (UAC), resulting from the government’s consolidation of Russia’s aerospace industry, and notes that Russia’s 5th generation PAK-FA fighter project will not be fielded before 2015-2017. In contrast, batch production and deliveries of the SU-35 are promised between 2010-2011. Moscow News | Russian release (English version not yet on web).
March 6/08: Maiden flight. Russia test flies SU-35. The first Su-35 prototype made its maiden flight on Feb 18/08, and 2 more aircraft are being prepared for similar tests at an aircraft manufacturing plant in Russia’s Far East. The company expects the jet to enter service with Russia’s military in 2-3 years. RIA Novosti.
Sept 4/07: Clarity? A subsequent Flight International article may begin to offer clarity re: the platform. It states categorically that the SU-35-1 design, unveiled at Russia’s MAKS 2007 air show, is a single-seat aircraft without canard foreplanes, but with a lighter airframe than the SU-27, enlarged fan and engine inlets, 2 NPO Saturn/Ufa MPO Item 117S engines that reportedly offer thrust vectoring and supercruise performance in clean layout, 2t more fuel, modernized electronics at all levels, a Tikhomirov NIIP Irbis (updated N-011M Bars) passive electronically scanned array radar, 6,000 hour airframe life, and 4,000 hour engine life.
- Sukhoi – Su-35
- KnAAPO – THE SU-35 Single-Seat Multi-Role Super-Maneuverable Fighter
- Fighter Tactics Academy, via WayBack – Sukhoi Su-35. By Sergei Drobyshev, Head of the Regional Policy and Marketing Department, KnAAPO.
- Ubisoft Forums, via WayBack (Aug 20/04) – How is SU-35UB different from SU-MKK? Reader forum Q&A. Caveat reader.
- Air Power Australia – Sukhoi Flankers: The Shifting Balance of Regional Air Power. Program history, details, regional procurement notes, and analysis of the SU-30 family’s current capabilities and likely future upgrades.
- DID – PAK-FA: India, Russia Cooperating re: “Fifth-Generation Fighter”. The PAK-FA, likely to be renamed SU-50. The SU-35 is competing with the SU-30MKI/SM right now, but as the SU-50 moves closer to reality, it will also implicitly compete with that stealth jet.
- RosOboronExport Air Forces Catalog [odd mixed web/PDF format]