Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35 is among the world’s most spectacular modern day combat aircraft. A state-of-the-art multirole-capable air superiority fighter fitted with thrust-vectoring engines, it’s fast, potent and exceptionally manoeuvrable (‘super-manoeuvrable’). The type currently equips only the Russian Air Force but one other air arm has ordered it and at least one further order is in prospect.
Sukhoi Su-35 Origins
Russian manufacturer Sukhoi has so far given two of its designs the ‘Su-35’ designation. Its first Su-35 was a late-1980s Su-27 ‘Flanker’ fourth generation air superiority fighter export model that only entered limited military service but this Fact File concentrates exclusively on Sukhoi’s more recent Su-35, also based on the Su-27.
By the early-2000s, a whole host of Flanker variants had been developed but the company was already looking ahead. The fruits of its research/development in this area would, as the Sukhoi PAK FA fifth-generation fighter, be introduced in 2010 but, before that, Sukhoi worked on an inter-generational gap-filler.
Blending both fourth and fifth generation fighter elements – Sukhoi calls it a 4++ generation aircraft – the new Su-35 world-debuted (statically) at 2007’s MAKS aerospace event in Moscow, Russia. It first flew on 19 February 2008, with Sukhoi test pilot Sergey Bogdan at its controls. Lasting 55 minutes, this first Su-35 flight involved control systems and engine assessments. On 2 October 2008, a second Su-35 prototype joined it in the skies and, by March 2009, 100 Su-35 flight tests had been carried out. That same year, one more Su-35 prototype got airborne (a fourth airframe, destined to fly, was instead written off during ground handling trials) and, in November 2009, Su-35 production was started.
The type has since both joined the Russian Air Force and made selected public appearances, notably at 2013’s Paris Air Show: a truly international platform for its mind-blowing flying demonstrations.
Sukhoi Su-35 Performance
The Su-35 boasts impressive performance credentials. Its top speed is 1,490 miles per hour (2,390 kilometres per hour – Mach 2.25) and it can climb at more than 55,000 feet (16,764 metres) a minute. It therefore, in theory, takes little more than 60 seconds to reach its maximum operating ceiling of 59,100 feet (18,000 metres). The aircraft’s operational range is 982 miles (1,580 kilometres) at sea level, more than doubling to 2,237 miles (3,600 kilometres) at higher elevations. Its absolute range (ferry range) – with extra fuel carried - is 2,796 miles (4,500 kilometres).
Sukhoi Su-35 Features
The Su-35 features a reinforced airframe on account of its increased weight over the Su-27. Titanium alloys figure prominently but composite materials are also used, notably in the aircraft’s undercarriage, flaps and radome. Inside this radome sits the aircraft’s highly sophisticated Irbis-E PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) radar. The Su-35’s radar has a 249 mile (400 kilometre) range but, even at that maximum distance, can pick out an object around garden shed-sized. Up to 30 targets can be followed simultaneously and up to eight can be engaged. ‘Signature-reduction technologies’ are another Su-35 airframe component. Comprising radar-absorbing paint, electro-conducting compounds over the canopy and more – while the Su-35 isn’t an out-and-out stealth aircraft - they’re designed to help minimise the aircraft’s enemy radar screen profile.
Thrust-vectoring engines are probably the Su-35’s defining feature. These are highly upgraded Saturn AL-31F engines fitted with vectored thrust nozzles. Digitally-controlled, the nozzles function independently and help give the Su-35 its super-manoeuvrability – a potential air combat advantage. They’re built to last 4,000 flying hours whereas the Su-35 itself has a reported 6,000 hours – or thirty years – service life.
HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle-and-Stick) are part of the Su-35’s cockpit features, as are fully-digitised displays and a Zvesda K-36D-3.5E ejection seat for the pilot. Avionics-wise, various systems are integrated into the Su-35’s IMS (Information Management System). This IMS is, in Sukhoi terms, a ‘single complex that ensures the interaction between the crew and equipment’. A quadruplex fly-by-wire control system gives three lines of backup, should the primary controls system fail.
Sukhoi Su-35 Weapons
The Su-35 boasts 12 weapons hardpoints able to support a variety of ordnance up to a maximum payload of 17,630 pounds (8,000 kilograms). Four of these hardpoints are fitted to each wing, with the remainder on its under-fuselage. Weapons carried include AA-10 Alamo, AA-11 Archer and AA-12 Adder air-to-air missiles, Kh-31A anti-ship missiles and various laser-guided bombs and rockets. Targets are tracked by the Su-35’s OLS-35 optoelectronic targeting system. This performs laser-ranging and a process called IRST (infra-red search and track). The Su-35 is also equipped with a Gryazev-Shipunov 30mm Gsh-301 internal cannon, which carries 150 rounds.
Sukhoi Su-35 Operators
The Russian Air Force initially ordered 48 Su-35s, all of which have now been delivered and so far constitute the type’s total production run. In Russian Air Force service, they carry the Su-35S name. Su-35S construction is carried out not by Sukhoi but contracted out to KnAAPO (the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association). A further 50 Su-35Ss were ordered in January 2016. That same month, Russian Air Force Su-35Ss started their first combat deployment. Operating from Khmeimim Air Base, they were sent there to carry out sorties in Syria. There are currently four Russian Air Force Su-35S homebases – namely Dzemgi Airport, Centralnaya Uglovaya Air Base, Lipetsk Air Base and Akhtubinsk Air Base.
Russian aside, China has signed-on for 24 examples via a $2bn contract agreed in November 2015. People’s Liberation Army (Chinese) Air Force Su-35 deliveries are set to begin this year. Potential Su-35 operators include Indonesia, which is set to buy 10-to-16. The relevant Russian-Indonesian Su-35 supply contract could be signed as soon as next month (April 2016).
Sukhoi Su-35: Key Facts
Multirole air superiority fighter
71 ft 10 in (21.9 m)
50 ft 2 in (15.3 m)
Two Saturn (modified) AL-31F afterburning turbofans, producing 31,900 pounds thrust each
1,490 mph (2,390 km/h)
2,796 miles (4,500 km)
59,100 ft (18,000 m)
30 mm GSh-301 internal cannon, various missiles, rockets and bombs
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