Komsomolsk-on-Amur admits Su-35’s combat flaws in Ukrainian skies

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The National Interest, an American publication, reveals that at the onset of the Ukraine war, the Russian Su-35 fighter jets surpassed their expectations in aerial battles. Russian sources have even reported that a single Su-35 has successfully claimed at least seven victories against Ukrainian aircraft. 

Photo credit: Twitter

Embarrassingly enough, a few weeks ago, the official spokesperson for the Su-35 manufacturer in Komsomolsk-on-Amur admitted that the jet’s performance in Ukraine’s hostile airspace did not meet expectations. The National Interest also corroborates this information. 

Our aircraft specialist, Alexey Lenkov, provides valuable insights into this seemingly contradictory situation. Lenkov explains that the Su-35’s original design constraints might be contributing factors to these varied performances. Initially designed to dominate air-to-air combat, this jet was not intended for launching attacks on enemy positions or for the extensive use of air-to-surface missiles. It’s perfectly logical, then, to see a performance spike when one Su-35 downed several adversary aircraft. Given its superior maneuverability, a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, impressive weaponry, and sophisticated radar and avionic systems, the Su-35 naturally outperforms Ukrainian MiG-29 or Su-27.

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The Su-35 descended lower

In the heat of battle, the Su-35 was forced to descend to lower altitudes as the Flanker-E asserted air dominance. This strategic adjustment put the Su-35 directly in the crosshairs of Ukraine’s high-powered mobile and stationary anti-aircraft warfare. Russia’s counterpart to Lenkov divulged to BulgarianMilitary.com that the hostile environment was indeed the primary cause for the lackluster performance exhibited by the Su-35 throughout 2023 and into the early months of 2024.

“The dense grid of high-tech air defense systems in Ukrainian airspace presents a formidable challenge, even for superior aircraft like the Su-35,” Russia conceded. By November of the preceding year, a total of five Su-35s had been grounded by the Ukrainians. In addition, early 2024 brought reports of a Ukrainian Patriot missile team taking down two more Su-35s in combat.

Photo credit: Twitter

Another factor to bear in mind is the possibility of human error. Piloting the Su-35 isn’t straightforward. It’s a highly sophisticated aircraft that requires a blend of skill and extensive experience for smooth operation. Inadequate training or a dearth of experience could substantially impact the combat effectiveness of the pilots and, consequently, the aircraft.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that the Su-35’s performance relies on consistent, high-quality maintenance and support. Failure to provide necessary upkeep or interruptions in its supply chain could cause technical issues that might potentially impair its battlefield capabilities.

The new role of the Su-35

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Su-35’s departure from its intended use has prompted a limited but compelling amount of Russian commentary, leading some to label it a failure. Interestingly enough, critics suggest that the Russian air force may have recognized the Su-35’s susceptibility to the likes of the Patriot, IRIS-T, NASAMS, or the S-300. This indicates a shift in approach evident since the start of the year. 

Increasingly, the Su-35 aircraft has operated in a manner similar to the Su-57, steering clear from the front line. Russian forces have effectively utilized the long-range combat capabilities of the Su-35, orchestrating strikes on Ukrainian targets from beyond the horizon. Building on this trend, Ashish Dangwal from the EurAsian Times reports that this tactical maneuver by the Russians has “forced Ukrainian fighter jets to operate at lower altitudes”. Consequently, Ukrainian military aircraft become as susceptible as the Su-35. However, unlike Russia, Ukraine has little to no room for losses – they simply cannot afford to lose a fighter jet “so casually”.

Shifted focus

Following a recent analysis conducted in the United States in 2024, a significant shift in production has been observed. It appears that Moscow is moving its focus towards the guaranteed serial production of the Su-57, thereby seemingly relegating the Su-35 to a secondary role. 

However, this does not make the Su-35 ineffective. In fact, if you remove the propaganda from both sides of the war [between Russia and Ukraine], the Su-35 emerges as a strong performer. It sits somewhere between the fourth and fifth-generation aircraft. Considering the substantial quantity of misleading information circulated by both parties in the Ukraine conflict, it’s quite challenging to accurately determine the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the Su-35. 

American analysts suggest that the diminishing reputation of the Su-35 in Ukraine is the catalyst behind the reluctance of ‘sure’ customers to acquire the Su-35. However, the real situation may be quite different. It’s evident that Washington is making every possible effort to deter countries like Egypt and Indonesia from purchasing the Su-35. This is being executed through the enforcement of the CAATSA law, which could have economic repercussions for future customers of the Su-35.

The Su-35 is not just a paper plane

Known in the aviation world as the Su-35, the Sukhoi Su-35 is a state-of-the-art, versatile fighter aircraft, manufactured by the renowned Sukhoi Design Bureau in Russia. It’s primarily an upgraded version of the Su-27 ‘Flanker’ and belongs to the 4++ generation of aircraft, as classified by the Russian Air Force. 

The Su-35’s dimensions are quite substantial, demonstrating clearly its design as a long-range air dominance fighter. It has a length of 21.9 meters, a wing span of 15.3 meters and stands at a height of 5.9 meters. With a wing area of approximately 62 square meters, the Su-35 exhibits exceptional lift and agility. 

Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

Technologically, the Su-35 showcases a variety of advanced features. It is powered by two Saturn AL-41F1S afterburning turbofan engines, producing a maximum thrust of 142 kN when the afterburner is engaged. This allows the Su-35 to achieve a top speed of Mach 2.25 at high altitudes and enables it to reach a service ceiling of 18,000 meters. 

The operational range of the Su-35 is quite astounding. On internal fuel alone, it has a combat radius of 1,600 kilometers. When equipped with external fuel tanks, the range expands to well beyond 4,500 kilometers. This suggests that the Su-35 is truly a long-range aircraft, capable of undertaking missions far from its home base.

Radar is not to be underestimated

Photo credit: UAC

When it comes to avionics, the Su-35 excels with a high-tech array of systems such as a state-of-the-art digital fly-by-wire control, a modern glass cockpit filled with multifunction displays, and a helmet-mounted targeting system. Additionally, it comes equipped with a self-defense purpose electronic warfare system. 

The Su-35’s radar capabilities are powered by the Irbis-E passive electronically scanned array radar. This impressive radar can detect aerial targets from up to 400 kilometers and track up to 30 targets simultaneously, engaging with up to 8 of them. It boasts a ground mapping mode and can detect and monitor stealth aircraft. 

Last but not least, the Su-35’s weapons system is diverse and powerful. It includes 12 hardpoints that can support a wide range of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, anti-ship missiles, and bombs. The Su-35 is also armed with a 30mm GSh-30-1 autocannon for short-range combat scenarios.

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