Winning: Su-35 Sales Stumbles

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February 2, 2022: Russia has lost export sales for its new Su-35 fighter to Algeria, Egypt and Indonesia because of economic sanctions Russia has been under since 2014. Exports of more than fifty Su-35s have been delayed or cancelled by these three countries, though the latest version of the original Su-27; the single-seat Su-35, is good for 6,000 flight hours and has some stealth capabilities added. The Su-35 was an apparently successful effort to offer some competition, as a Generation 4.5 fighter, for the American F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters, which set the standard for Generation 5 aircraft. Russia’s Su-57 effort to build a Gen 5 fighter failed but a lot of the tech worked and that was transferred to the SU-30s to produce the Su-35, Su-30MKI, Su-30SM and Su-30SMs. The Su-35 is an impressive piece of work. It 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 as sold to the Russian Air Force. This is 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 has some stealth capabilities, or at least can be less detectable to most fighter aircraft radars. Russia claims the Su-35 has a useful 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 Su-30s (which were Su-27s tweaked to be extremely agile). The Su-35 was in development for two decades before it was declared ready for production in 2005. But even then, there were problems with the new engines that gave it its superior performance. Russia says the engine problems are solved, but only time will tell if that is true.

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 carries 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 Su-35 live up to the promises, the aircraft would be more than a match for every fighter out there except the F-22. Since the Su-35 is to sell for well under $100 million each, there should be a lot of buyers.

There was a lot of interest, and orders from Algeria, Egypt and Indonesia. But then sanctions on Russia led to delays in delivering on schedule. There were also problems with the radar and some other components. Algeria, Egypt and Indonesia are looking at other modern fighters while telling Russia they will restore some of their orders if the Su-35 becomes available with the same performance the demonstration aircraft displayed.

 


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