MOSCOW ($1=69.35 Russian Rubles) — This time, the war in Ukraine has nothing to do with it. It’s just that Russia has a habit in peacetime, whether due to lack of sufficient funding, poor marketing, or poor planning, of not completing its military programs in terms of Russian fighter jets at all. The Su-57 Felon, for example, began life on the drawing board at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Ten years later, in 2010, it made its first flight. And only a year ago it went into serial production.
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Therefore, the backbone of Russian aviation remains the Su-35 Flanker-E, although this fighter also has production delays. According to publicly available information, the Russian Air and Space Forces [VKS] have at least 100 units in service. 50 others were sold to foreign customers.
It could be argued that Russia is buying the Su-35 because of the failure of the Su-57 over the past ten years. Otherwise, if Moscow relied on “planning” in the production of the Su-57, the VKS would be left with a uniquely antiquated air fleet, unable to counter the west.
NATO created momentum
The good thing about competition is that adversaries in the market pull each other forward. If one advances, the other tries to catch up so as not to fall behind. The Su-35 is the catch-up fighter of the Russian armed forces.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter continues to be deployed in countries both in western and central Europe and in eastern European countries closer to Russia. Currently, however, deployed F-35 fleets are far from being able to conduct intense combat. Some experts say this is because the program has not yet matured. But he has the final right to do so. And once it happens, the US will begin production and deployment of sixth-generation aircraft. It is expected that this will happen at the end of this decade.
I.e. in 2030, the Su-35 of the Russian Air Force will be quite obsolete. They will catch up with their competitor again. To counter in the coming years, Moscow needs a combat-ready fleet. And since it is too early to consider the Su-57 as the backbone of the Russian air force, it remains for the Su-35 to assume the role of the “big daddy” in the Russian army.
Therefore, Moscow is about to modernize its Flanker-E once again. Thus comes the Su-35SM, which, according to sources, is already in the process of modernization. Here’s what to expect from the upgraded super fighter.
New air-to-air missiles
One of the shortcomings of the Su-35 Flanker-E is the R-77-1 air-to-air missiles beyond visual range. The missiles have a range of 110 km and use active radar guidance. These missiles are actually the main armament of the Russian fighter. The Su-35 also has another type of missile – the R-27ER/ET model, but unlike the previous ones, these missiles do not have active guidance. Although their range is within 130 km, the Su-35 cannot launch multiple missiles at once. And since they don’t have active guidance, they use touch guidance from the cockpit.
Although, according to the technical characteristics and indicators, the rockets are “great”, they were so at the beginning of the new millennium. Today, they cannot be compared to the French Meteor or AIM-120D. Therefore, the Su-35SM will be armed with missiles that are located on the pods under the wings of the Su-57. These are the R-77M missiles, which have their own AESA radar and trimmed fins.
Also, their range reaches 400 km, which is a good start for hitting beyond the visual range. The warhead of the missile is 60 kg and develops a hypersonic speed of Mach 6. This is a valuable payload for the Su-35SM, as this missile is used for high-priority air targets.
New radar, AESA type
Logically and expectedly, the Su-35SM should improve its radar capabilities. There is currently an Ibris-E radar on the nose of the fighter, but it is a PESA radar, which means reduced capabilities. Although Ibris-E is considered the best PESA radar in the world, Russia’s adversaries have long since abandoned this technology and relied on AESA radars.
The Su-57 is the first Russian fighter to use AESA radar. The same will be integrated into the nose of the Su-35SM. AESA radars are harder to jam, reduce aircraft signature and provide better electronic warfare capabilities.
Electronic warfare system
Currently, the Su-35C model has an electronic warfare system. Although it is not of the last generation, it is believed that it helped quite a few Su-35s survive the war in Ukraine. The system is called the KNIRTI L175M Khibiny-M and provides a radio-electronic protective cover for fighters against surface-to-air or air-to-air missile attacks. The system builds a digital cloud and makes not only the Su-35 difficult to detect but also its accompanying aircraft.
The problem is that Khibiny-M is located at one point on the aircraft, which is sometimes a serious drawback. If Ukraine had modern fighter jets, this electronic warfare system would not be as effective as it is now. Therefore, the Su-35SM will be equipped with a new electronic warfare system – Himalaya. This system is deployed for the entire fuselage of the fighter. It has already been tested in 2014 on the fuselage of the Su-57 Felon.
It is reported to have a very long range, exceeding the effective range of use of Western air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-120D, which will allow the Su-35SM to more effectively neutralize attacks non-kinetically.
Su-35 does not have quality data transfer. Russia seems to be lagging behind in integrating a secure data link into its aging aircraft. But the wars being fought in the 21st-century show, and suggest, that the data link will play a key role in air superiority. It can be said that currently Russian fighters, including the Su-57, lag behind not only the American flagship F-35 but also the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter of the fifth generation.
It is assumed that the Su-35SM will be equipped with the new combined system of communication, data exchange, navigation, and identification [OSNOD]. The system is a completely new product and was introduced and tested in 2019. It provides encrypted communication and an anti-jamming function. OSNOD will allow the Su-35SM to function as part of a larger combat network.
Infrared countermeasures are known as laser defenses. It is new to the world, and it is still being tested, although some countries are ahead and are already integrating it into the structure of their fighters. The US is one of those countries, and China and Israel are the other two.
Infrared countermeasures are laser beam that blinds the incoming infrared homing of enemy missiles. They can be mounted behind the fighter cabin or under it. These systems are primarily used in close combat when there is visual contact between the two combatant fighters. It is expected that the Su-35SM will be armed with just such a “laser” beam.
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