The United Aviation Corporation (UAC), a subsidiary of the Russian conglomerate Rostec, has delivered the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) three new Su-35S multirole fighters this month. VKS has already acquired 106 Su-35S aircraft.
The JA Gagarin Aircraft Plant produces the Su-35S aircraft and Su-57 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur (KnAAZ), a Sukhoi Design Bureau production branch.
Russian Su-35 numbers
KnAAZ has four contracts for the supply of Su-35S from the Russian Ministry of Defense. Based on two contracts (2009, 2015), KnAAZ produced 98 Su-35S till 2020. The third contract (2020) covered the delivery of eight Su-35S. Initially, there was talk of 30 new aircraft, but only 22 planes were ordered in the fourth contract. The three Su-35S delivered recently are the last aircraft of the third contract.
VKS has taken delivery of 106 Su-35S to date. In Ukraine, between one and two Su-35S were lost in accidents. On paper, VKS operates 102 to 103 Su-35S aircraft.
The fourth deal stipulates that the VKS will buy 22 more Su-35S aircraft by 2024. According to the Russian blog BMPD (owned by the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST)), an OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) delving into the Russian Air Force, the VKS will induct seven Su-35S into service this year, four of which will be procured under the fourth contract.
BMPD also releases a yearly summary of aircraft deliveries to VKS. According to the regularly updated KnAAZ chart, it has been supplying 10 Su-35S aircraft yearly since 2017, but just five in 2021. This year, seven Su-35S are scheduled to be delivered. In 2023 and 2024, VKS will induct the remaining 18 Su-35S.
“The Su-35S is our key product,” says Alexander Pekarš, director of KnAAZ. “This is one of the best aircraft in the world. It has great potential, and its production at our plant will continue in the future.”
However, KnAAZ must also oversee the manufacture of the Su-57. In 2020 and 2021, KnAAZ sent three Su-57s to VKS; this year, four Su-57s are planned to be transferred. At the end of this year, VKS will own seven Su-57s. KnAAZ must manufacture 76 Su-57s by 2027 or 2028.
Despite its fame, mainly due to its impressive manoeuvrability at air shows, the Su-35S is not a successful export aircraft. The reasons are the rapidly ageing technology and political pressure from the Americans / the West.
China is the lone foreign operator of the Su-35S with 24 units. Egypt ordered 24 Su-35S aircraft at the end of 2018, with delivery dates between 2020 and 2021. A few Su-35S are said to have landed in Egypt, although the Egyptian Air Force has not yet received them. Consequently, seventeen Egyptian Su-35S await their destiny at KnAAZ. Photographs of five Egyptian Su-35S surfaced in 2020.
It is believed that the Egyptians refused to accept the delivery of the Su-35S owing to American political pressure.
Due to the Su-35S’s obsolescence, Algeria refused to procure the Su-35S. The obsolete PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) Irbis-E radar is to blame. Western aircraft employ more modern AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radars. Egypt is similarly dismayed by the AESA radar’s absence.
Although Russian advertising materials indicate that the Irbis-E has a range of 350 kilometres, the truth is much more complex and understated. The practical range of the Irbis-E is 200 kilometres. In general, PESA radars have a great range; they can rapidly scan wide regions, but their precision is limited, which reduces the distance for firing long-range missiles, for instance. AESA has a greater effective range, can identify smaller targets (drones, cruise missiles), and is resistant to electronic warfare. In general, all contemporary ground, maritime, and airborne radars are of the AESA kind (the Su-57 also has one).
Iran could take over the Egyptian Su-35S. The commander of the Iranian Air Force, Brigadier General Hamid Vahedi, has already rushed to claim that Iran is considering buying Russian Su-35s. Unlike Egypt, Iran does not have to worry about Western sanctions because they have been imposed on it for decades. In addition, it has no chance of acquiring modern Western aircraft.
Chibina EW falls in the hands of Russian enemies
The recovery of the wreckage of a Russian Su-30SM aircraft with a nearly intact Chibina electronic warfare container is related to the Su-35, if indirectly, in a fundamental way. The container protects the Su-30, Su-34, and Su-35 aircraft in different configurations.
Six months ago, the Su-30SM crashed in a Russian-controlled region near Izjum. However, the Russians did not remove the aircraft or container during this time. Consequently, the most modern Russian electronic warfare equipment reached the Ukrainians and, in consequence, Western intelligence agencies.
Lockheed Martin anticipates that by 2030, more than 550 F-35s will be stationed in Europe. In addition, the number of F-16s and Eurofighter 4.5 generation aircraft is also growing in Europe. At the end of this decade, the Russian Su-35S fleet will have to upgrade its radar, EW and weapon systems to cope with the increasing number of Western aircraft, especially F-35s in the region.