RuAF receives two Su-35S fighter jets transitional to 5th-gen

Recently, the Defense Ministry of Russia welcomed a fresh fleet of fighter aircraft. While the exact count remains undisclosed by the United Aviation Corporation [UAC] and state enterprise Rostec, it is confirmed that two Su-35S fighters have journeyed from the KnAAZ airport to their new home base. An official announcement from Rostec stated the delivery of these two Su-35S jets, describing them as “bridging platforms to fifth-generation aviation systems”. 

RuAF receives two Su-35S fighter jets transitional to 5th-gen
Video screenshot

Adhering to the stipulations of the state order, this inaugural delivery for 2024 marks the arrival of the Su-35S fleet from UAC to the Russian Aerospace Forces, often referred to as VKS or RuAF. It’s worth reminding readers here that a pair of newly manufactured Su-34 Fullbacks were also delivered to the Russian Defense Ministry by UAC not long ago, marking the initial delivery for 2024.

Based on the plan laid out by the state order, UAC is due to supply Su-35 jets to Russia through 2028. While there’s potential for extensions, as well as a possible increase in the order quantity, this remains unconfirmed speculation. Given the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which ostensibly detracts from Russia’s combat air strength, the likelihood of future augmentations cannot be discounted. 

RuAF receives two Su-35S fighter jets transitional to 5th-gen
Video screenshot

Claims of proceedings

In 2023, Russian aviation was significantly reinforced by the arrival of three consecutive Su-35S shipments. The rapid succession of the first and second batches stood out. According to public records, a total of 151 Su-35S fighters have been manufactured by UAC to date. 

Furthermore, in February, an exhaustive report from the Czech Republic brought to light an increased production of the Su-35S, particularly in the aftermath of the inception of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine – a euphemism adopted by Russia and its media to describe the conflict in Ukraine. The core of this report was an analysis of satellite imagery, enhanced by artificial intelligence.

Satellite Watch: Su-35 production surges despite microchip ban
Photo credit: SpaceKnow

The Czech tech firm involved in satellite imagery research, SpaceKnow, utilizes an IMINT application that employs artificial intelligence for an all-embracing analysis. Before the conflict in Ukraine, about 11 to 16 Su-35S fighters could be observed at different times within the UAC roster. 

Since the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there has been a significant increase in the production of Su-35 aircraft in the Czech system. Remarkably, by April of that year, an impressive 19 aircraft had been constructed. By October, this figure had skyrocketed to a total of 30 combat-ready aircraft, tactically positioned near the assembly hubs.

Satellite images

Satellite Watch: Su-35 production surges despite microchip ban
Photo credit: SpaceKnow

This increasing trend didn’t stop in 2023. Evidence from satellite images, taken in September, revealed a fleet of 31 Su-35s stationed at the manufacturing plant. The most recent snapshot, taken in October 2023, showcased a staggering 29 aircraft, all prepped and ready for flight. 

Research by SpaceKnow indicates that establishing the exact tally of newly-produced aircraft is complicated. As the researchers clarify, “Our assessment is an informed conclusion that the newly produced aircraft are likely stationed near the production facilities.” Adding a touch of intrigue, they mention that occasionally, incomplete aircraft can be observed in these sections, and these “on-hold” aircraft are frequently moved to different locations.

A study led by the American Center for European Policy Analysis [CEPA] provides an intriguing perspective on this topic. Their research concludes that Russia has been consistently assembling around 30-35 new Su-35 aircraft in recent months. By applying some basic arithmetic, this implies that Russia theoretically boasts an arsenal of about 114 Su-35s. 

Russian Su-35 combat aircraft
Photo credit: Twitter

The Su-35 is “involved” in the conflict

From the onset of hostilities up to the present, the Russian Federation has effectively capitalized on the capabilities of the Su-35S. Despite this aircraft being a generation 4++ and considered a bridge to a fifth-generation fighter, it hasn’t proven invincible in Ukrainian air territory. There is substantial evidence, confirmed from both Ukrainian and Russian perspectives, that illustrates Ukraine’s Air Defense successes in downing multiple Su-35Ss.

Reports indicate that the Su-35S has emerged victorious in at least seven air confrontations with Ukrainian military aircraft and a single engagement with a Ukrainian naval aircraft. When assessing Russian casualties, the first incident happened on April 3, 2022. That’s when a Ukrainian force brought down a Russian Su-35S. The pilot managed to eject before being captured and confirmed that his Su-35S was hit near Izyum when he was contending with Ukrainian air defenses. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense confirmed on May 9 that Colonel Igor Bedzai, the deputy head of the Ukrainian Navy’s aviation service, was tragically killed in action. His Mi-14PS was taken down by a Russian Su-35. 

Watch: Dogfight, Russian flagship Su-35 Flanker-E downed over Kherson
Photo credit: YouTube

On July 19, 2022, officials from the Ukrainian Air Force alleged that they had brought down a Su-35 near Kakhovka. However, at the time, there was a lack of photographic evidence to support the claim. By early February 2023, pictures of the wreckage began to surface, thus confirming that the downed aircraft was indeed a Su-35S.

On May 14, 2023, a Su-35 fighter was targeted by a Ukrainian MIM-104 Patriot missile, unfortunately crashing in the Bryansk region. Merely eight days later, in an eerily identical scenario, another Su-35 met the same fate over Bryansk Oblast when it too was intercepted by a Ukrainian MIM-104 Patriot missile. Then, in an unfortunate mishap of mistaken identity, a Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile inadvertently downed a friendly Su-35 near the Tokmak area on September 28, 2023. Preliminary reports suggest that an inability of the S-300 missile’s fire control radar to accurately distinguish between friend and foe was the primary cause of the incident that led to the unintended downing of the Su-35. 

According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, their air defenses successfully shot down two Su-35s in February of 2024, marking it as “the most successful month in terms of dwindling Russian air prowess since October 2022“. In that month, Ukrainian forces reportedly claimed the downing of ten Su-34 and one A-50 aircraft.

Russia shows Su-35 pilot: 800 flights, hundred destroyed targets
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What the Su-35S is?

The Su-35S represents an upgrade of the Su-27, a product of the Soviet era. This powerful aircraft holds a notable position in the arsenal of the Russian Air Force. With its robust construction, the aircraft boasts a length of 21.9 meters, a wingspan of 15.3 meters, and a height of 5.9 meters. It has a maximum take-off weight of around 34,500 kg, encompassing the weight of both the aircraft and its payload. 

The propulsion for the Su-35S comes from its twin Saturn AL-41F1S turbofan engines equipped with afterburners. These engines provide a combined thrust of 172 kN, driving the aircraft to reach a maximum speed of 2,500 km/h at high altitudes and an impressive 1,400 km/h near sea level. It can ascend to a service ceiling of up to 18,000 meters.

Turning to its armaments, the Su-35S is heavily armed with admirable versatility. With 12 available points for weapon attachment, this aircraft can accommodate everything, from air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles to anti-ship missiles. For close combat scenarios, it is equipped with a 30mm GSH-30-1 gun, loaded with 150 rounds. 

The Su-35S boasts an impressive range. With external fuel tanks, it can ferry over a distance of 4,500 km, and it has a combat radius of 1,600 km. This gives the aircraft the ability to operate across long distances from the base, proving to be an invaluable asset in various combat scenarios.

A challenge for KnAAZ

Su-34s yesterday, Su-35s today, RuAF expects new Su-57s within days
Photo credit: UAC

“Over the past few years, we’ve continuously modernized the Komsomol plant, enabling us to produce Su-35S aircraft at an incredibly high technological level. Our upgrades encompass a production line, modern Russian machinery, and a state-of-the-art testing facility. Thanks to significant state investment in plant development, we’ve been able to rapidly align our production with the burgeoning needs of VKS,” says Yury Slyusar, UAC General Director and Vice President of SoyuzMash of Russia LLC, during the delivery of two fighter aircraft today. 

Slyusar hints that the escalating use of production capacity poses a challenge for KnAAZ since it demands the enhancement of the current employees’ skill sets and the recruitment of new personnel in key blue-collar and engineering fields. The company plans to increase its aviation manufacturing team by an additional 800 staff by the end of 2024.

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