Procurement: F-22ski Scores First Sales


August 21, 2009: The Russian Air Force has ordered another 64 jet fighters from Sukhoi, for $2.5 billion. Most (48) of these will be the Su-35, and all will be delivered within six years. The other aircraft are twelve Su-27SMs and four Su-30M2 fighter bombers. These sixteen aircraft will be delivered within two years. All of these aircraft are variations on the Cold War era Su-27, which was built to deal with the U.S. F-15.

The Su-35 is the most advanced of these Su-27 designs, sometimes referred as the F-22ski. Four months ago, one of the two prototypes of the Su-35s crashed on takeoff. The cause was a problem with one of the two engines. A third prototype is under construction. Russia had hoped to have the destroyed prototype fly over the May Day parade in Moscow on May 1st. The crash was really bad PR, since one of the consistent shortcomings of Russian warplanes has been the unreliable engines. But the project is moving forward, and Russia expects to export over 160 Su-35s in the next five years, and eventually have more F-35s in service than the U.S. has F-22s.

It was a year ago that the Su-35 had its first flight. In late 2007, the Russian Air Force showed off the first of two flyable prototypes. It was just three years ago, that Russia announced its long promised Su-35 fighter, was back in development again, after having been stalled for over six years because of cash shortages.

The Su-35 is an enhanced Su-30 (itself a development of the Cold War era Su-27), and has been in development since the 1990s. At one point, it was called the Su-37, but the name was changed back to Su-35. Since the 1990s, time, many Su-35 prototypes were built, and apparently no two were identical. There were many disagreements over what direction the development should take, and by the late 1990s, the project was basically suspended for lack of funding.

The Russians want to sell Su-35s to China, India and other foreign customers, and this opportunity turned the cash flow back on. Apparently Russia now has the billions of dollars it will take to carry out the Su-35 development program. India has become a partner, contributing cash, technology and manufacturing capability.

The Su-35 is a 34 ton fighter that is more maneuverable than the original, 33 ton, Su-27, and has much better electronics. It can cruise at above the speed of sound. It also costs at least fifty percent more than the Su-27. That would be some $60 million (for a barebones model), about what a top-of-the-line F-16 costs. The Su-27 was originally developed to match the F-15, which is larger than the single engine F-16. The larger size of the Su-27/35, allows designers to do a lot more with it in terms of modifications and enhancements.

The Su-35 is to have some stealth capabilities (or at least be less detectable to most fighter aircraft radars). Russia is promising a fighter with a life of 6,000 flight hours, and engines good for 4,000 hours. Russia promises world-class avionics, plus a very pilot-friendly cockpit. The use of many thrusters and fly-by-wire will produce an aircraft even more maneuverable than earlier Su-30s (which have been extremely agile).

The Su-35 is not meant to be a direct rival for the F-22, because the Russian aircraft is not nearly as stealthy. The Su-35 will carry a 30mm autocannon (with 150 rounds) and up to eight tons of munitions, hanging from 12 hard points. This reduces stealthiness, which the F-22 and F-35 get around by using an internal bay for bombs and missiles. But if the maneuverability and advanced electronics of the proposed Su-35 live up to the promises, the aircraft would be more than a match for every fighter out there except the F-22. If such an Su-35 was sold for well under $100 million each, there would be a lot of buyers.




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