The Su-35 is widely regarded as a very sophisticated fighter aircraft, with advanced technological features. However, it has formidable competition from other fighter planes within its category.
The Su-35 is an extensively enhanced iteration of the Su-27, integrating several fifth-generation technologies, including new radar systems, engines, and stealth capabilities. The Su-35 is capable of executing a wide variety of tasks, including air defense, ground assault, and naval strike operations. Furthermore, it can engage both airborne and surface targets across considerable distances. The aircraft can transport a diverse range of armaments, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, anti-ship missiles, bombs, and a 30mm cannon. The aircraft has a total of twelve hardpoints dedicated to accommodating external cargo, with the capability to transport a maximum of eight metric tons of weaponry.
The Su-35 has notable characteristics like a maximum velocity reaching Mach 2.5, and an extensive operational range spanning up to 3,600 kilometers. The Su-35 can accommodate a maximum of 14 air-to-air missiles or eight metric tons of weaponry across its 12 hardpoints. This armament encompasses a variety of missile types, including those designed for short-range, medium-range, long-range, and hypersonic engagements. The Su-35 is equipped with the Irbis-E passive electronically scanned array radar, which has robust capabilities for detecting and tracking numerous targets at extensive ranges. The Su-35 is equipped with an infrared search and track system capable of detecting the thermal emissions of aircraft within a radius of 50 kilometers. The Su-35 incorporates some stealth characteristics that effectively reduce its radar cross-section to around one to three square meters. It is equipped with an innovative information control system that effectively combines data from several sensors and presents it on a large LCD screen inside the cockpit.
The unique attributes of the Su-35 have garnered interest from several nations seeking to acquire it to get a strategic advantage. China has emerged as the primary international purchaser of the Su-35 fighter aircraft, which is manufactured in Russia. In 2015, a procurement of 24 Su-35 aircraft was made for $2.5 billion. The last delivery of this batch took place in 2019. China has purportedly conducted combat drills with the Su-35 aircraft in the regions of the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
In addition to China, Egypt placed an order in 2018 for a fleet of Su-35 aircraft, amounting to a total cost of $2 billion. This procurement occurred despite the potential risk of facing sanctions from the United States under the CAATSA. Egypt acquired its first consignment of five Su-35 aircraft in July 2020, with the remaining units anticipated to be delivered by 2023. Egypt’s potential selection of the Su-35 aircraft might be attributed to its strategic objective of diversifying its military equipment sources and bolstering its air defense capabilities. Additionally, other nations like Algeria, Venezuela, Libya, Syria, and India, have shown their inclination to get the Su-35 aircraft. However, it is important to note that no official confirmation on their respective purchases has been made thus far.
Russia is undertaking the modernization of its aircraft fleet by equipping them with advanced Su-35 fighter planes, motivated by many discernible factors. Russia seeks to address the issue of outdated and antiquated aircraft types, including the Su-27, Su-30, and Su-34, which have been in operation since the Soviet period and are now lacking competitiveness when compared to contemporary Western fighter aircraft. In light of escalating challenges posed by NATO and Ukraine, particularly after the annexation of Crimea and the continuing war in Donbas, there exists a strong need to bolster its air superiority and multi-role capabilities. Russia seeks to showcase its scientific capabilities and military might on a global scale, while also aiming to enhance its weapons trade and geopolitical leverage in countries such as Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
The Russian Su-35 and the American F-15EX Eagle II are contemporary iterations of preceding fighter aircraft models, which have undergone enhancements via the integration of advanced technology and expanded capabilities. Both entities are widely regarded as being among the top performers in the category of “4++ generation.” In terms of performance, sensors, weaponry, and stealth, the Su-35 and the F-15EX exhibit notable similarities. However, it is important to acknowledge that they also possess distinct characteristics that provide advantages in certain domains. Nevertheless, the Su-35 has a notable edge in terms of mobility.
The F-15EX has a superior thrust-to-weight ratio and reduced wing loading, hence augmenting its maneuverability and acceleration capabilities. The F-15EX is equipped with an enhanced APG-82 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system that boasts a maximum range of 500 kilometers. The Su-35 is equipped with an infrared search and track (IRST) system that can effectively identify stealth fighters at shorter distances. The Su-35 can carry a maximum of 14 air-to-air missiles (AAMs) or eight metric tons of weaponry across its 12 hardpoints. The F-15EX can accommodate a maximum of 22 air-to-air missiles (AAMs) or 13 tons of weaponry across its 29 hardpoints.
Nevertheless, the Su-35 possesses some limitations. The product has a suboptimal manufacturing rate and experiences delivery delays, hence impacting its overall availability. The Russian Forces have incurred losses of Su-35 aircraft during military engagements in Ukraine and Syria. In addition, the United States has expressed its intention to potentially enforce sanctions on nations, including Turkey and India, who engage in the procurement of Su-35 aircraft. Also, the aircraft exhibits several technical deficiencies and maintenance challenges regarding many components including the engines, radar system, and weaponry.
Moreover, certain components in the system are sourced from Western nations or China, potentially impacting the quality and compatibility. The Su-35, in addition, needs regular maintenance and repairs. Finally, the aircraft exhibits subpar performance and has garnered a negative image in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war, as it has been unable to achieve air dominance or provide efficient air assistance to the Russian ground troops. The Su-35 aircraft has reportedly seen instances of being either downed or sustaining damage as a result of engagements with Ukrainian air defense systems and fighter aircraft, including the S-300, Buk-M1, MiG-29, and F-16. The Su-35 has shown limited effectiveness in countering the Ukrainian drones and cruise missiles, resulting in significant casualties for the Russian troops.
In conclusion, the Su-35 is posing a significant challenge to a majority of its global counterparts, including the F-15EX, F-22, F-35, Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale, and J-20. Nevertheless, the Su-35 encounters a set of obstacles and constraints. These include the imposition of U.S. sanctions which dissuades certain nations from procuring Russian weapons. Also, the Russian Aerospace Forces’ performance and reputation in the Ukraine war have been lackluster. However, the Su-35 exhibits cost-effectiveness and enhanced dependability relative to certain counterparts, making it a compelling choice for prospective purchasing countries.