Russia expects its first Su-35SM with radio-absorbing coating
MOSCOW, RUSSIA — While the US and China are literally churning out their 5th generation fighters, Russia is in no rush to ramp up mass production of its Su-57 fighters.
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According to the statement of the management of the Aviation Plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, the construction of a workshop for final assembly is currently underway, the capacity of which will allow the production of up to 30 units of Su-57 fighters only from 2025.
Approximately the same number of fighters can be produced today by the Su-35S final assembly plant, where partial versions of the Su-57 are currently being produced in parallel.
Let’s skip all the details of why the Su-57 has not yet become the most popular fighter in the Russian Air Force. And it’s not clear when that will happen, or if it will happen at all. However, it is no secret that this niche is currently occupied by the Su-35S of the 4++ generation. However, it seems that the time has come to modernize the Su-35S flagships, which in turn were developed to combat the American F-22 fighters.
At the end of 2022, it became known that by the end of 2023, the Russian Air Force should receive the first pilot batch of a modernized version of the Su-35SM. Despite the special secrecy of this project, some details are already known. So let’s try to understand what to expect from the updated Russian flagship of the Su-35 line. Earlier, a source close to the UAC already stated that several technologies and solutions of the Su-57 project will be used as part of the Su-35SM modernization program.
The Su-35 fighter will receive more advanced and more resourceful AL-41FM engines, which are an adapted modification of the AL-41F1 engines for the Su-57. Unlike the AL-41F1S engines with an electromechanical control system of the Su-35S, the new power plant for the Su-35SM has a modern digital automatic control system with distributed parameter elements and a plasma ignition system.
That is, the new modification of the Su-35SM will have the ability to start the engine without oxygen and, as a result, increase the altitude parameters and lack of an entire oxygen engine system on board, which will also affect the weight reduction of the machine.
It is worth noting that according to the previously announced characteristics, as a result of the modernization, the Su-35SM fighter should lose about 6 tons of weight, in contrast to the basic version of the Su-35S. In addition, the thrust of each engine in afterburner mode will increase from 14.5 to 15 tons, which will also affect the increase in thrust-to-weight ratio and maneuverability.
The fighter body itself has also undergone changes. So far, there is no specific information about the case. However, it was previously stated that more composite materials would be used in the design of the airframe. In addition, the fuselage of the aircraft will be covered with a special radio-absorbing coating.
This whole complex of measures will significantly reduce the weight and the effective radar scattering area [ESR], which according to the designers will be close to those of the Su-57.
Regarding the onboard radar equipment, that is, the avionics, there was already information that the Su-35SM will receive a new unified cockpit with wide-screen displays, which today is already installed on the modernized Su-30SM2.
Even though a test batch of Su-30SM2 is already in the VKS, there are still no photos and more detailed information about the new “glass” cabin.
There is no official information about the replacement of the radar. However, several publications, citing verified sources, believe that the N035 Irbis-E radar will be replaced by a certain Irbis-E product with an active phased array antenna and additional wing-mounted AFAR X and L-band radars designed for lateral view and posterior hemisphere view. It is noted that the updated Irbis-E is actually an H036 Belka product adapted for this aircraft, installed on Su-57 fighters and declared to detect targets with EPR from 1 m² to 400 km.
It is not yet known whether the Irbis-E radar will outperform the American AN / APG-81 radars installed on F-35A aircraft. But the declared target detection range of the Irbis-E radar is up to 400 km and a power of up to 20 thousand watts, compared to 300 km for the F-35A radar and a declared power of about 16.5 thousand watts, which is a serious challenge for the American 5th generation stealth flagships.
The Su-35SM will be able to use upgraded weapons for the Su-57. Su-35s will also be able to use modifications of medium-range air-to-air missiles R-77M with a range of up to 160 km and long-range R-37M missiles of more than 320 km, a flight speed of about 6M and speaks of the impossibility of being intercepted, even in a collision.
And given that the most distant air-to-air missile for the F-35A, designated as the AIM-120D, has a range of up to 180 km, this advantage of the Su-35 fighter line is a serious challenge not only for the F-35 and F-22 but also for all existing fighters in the world.
Information has already appeared in the public space that the Hibini radio-electronic warfare system will now be installed on Su-30SM2 fighters, and the new modification of the Su-35SM will receive the most advanced Russian radio-electronic warfare system for fighters – the Himalaya product. It is worth noting that this radio-electronic warfare complex, in turn, was developed by the Radio-Electronic Technologies concern directly for the Su-57 fighters.
There is no point in talking about the advantages of the new electronic warfare Himalaya, since there are no specific performance characteristics of this product in the public domain, and they are unlikely to appear shortly. According to KRET, the military tests of the Himalaya radio-electronic warfare in the composition of the Su-57 have shown their highest efficiency and received positive feedback from the VKS command.
In this regard, a program has been launched to modify this complex for radio-electronic warfare, for its use on all Russian strike drones of a new generation. According to unconfirmed information, it is precisely for this reason that the time for mass production of the Russian reconnaissance-strike drones of the Orion family has been changed. However, it is already known that it is the Himalayan radio-electronic warfare that will be used as the main electronic protection of the Okhotnik-B UAV.
Navigation and communication
It is already known that the updated Su-35 will receive the latest navigation system with a satellite system, as well as the S-111 digital communication system, which will provide the fighter with a completely different level of efficiency in receiving information through a secure channel.
The new C-111 digital communications complex can transmit large amounts of information in real-time over long distances from any aircraft and command posts.
The S-111’s data transmission rate, including voice messages, video, radar data, and information from security cameras, is more than 34 Mbps, according to the statement of the general director of the United Instrumentation Corporation Alexander Yakunin.
Optical locator station
Another pleasant change in the new modification of the Su-35SM will be the integration of the new and most powerful optical location station with the infrared target search and tracking system OLS-35M, equipped with a thermal imaging channel.
Unlike the OLS-35 for the Su-35C, the new modification of the OLS-35M is best optimized for situational awareness and detection of American 5th-generation stealth aircraft. The OLS-35M allows the fighter to operate against both air and ground targets. And without irradiating them with their onboard radar. That is, at zero radar visibility. And as a result, the fighter can stay out of sight. The characteristics of the upgraded OLS-35M optical locator station are not yet publicly available. However, it is known that this is actually an adapted OLS-57, which in turn is now fitted to production Su-57s.
It is worth noting that if the characteristics of the OLS-35M can only be guessed, then today there is still some data on the basic version of the OLS-35. It is known that it allows you to detect low-profile targets in an infrared mode without the use of radar at a distance of up to 90 km.
According to the early statements of several experts close to the UAC, the new modification of the Su-35SM will practically not be inferior to the American fighters of the 5th generation. Some Western publications have also already emphasized that the new modification of the Su-35SM can become the most advanced fighter in its class.
It is worth noting that in July 2022, the press service of Rosoboronexport reported that the new modification of the Su-35SM will be able to control aviation operations, performing early warning and aircraft control tasks.
In the conditions of insufficient production capacity of domestic aviation plants and an acute shortage of 5th generation fighters in the Air Force, today it is necessary to survive as much as possible from Su-35 and Su-30 fighters, which are actually still Soviet heritage. In such a situation, integrating the modern developments of the Su-57 into the fighters of the previous generation, especially considering the tense world situation, is now certainly quite the right decision.
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