F-16 vs Su-35 battle is building up in Ukraine; here are some of each plane’s strengths and weaknesses

The Su-35 has a longer range, powerful engines, and superior avionics over the F-16.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The F-16 is the fighter that Ukraine desires the most. The reason for this is their versatility; pilots would be able to execute both combat missions and bolster air defence. During a briefing, Yuriy Ignat, the spokesman for the leadership of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, stated that pilots believe they can master the planes within a few weeks. Yet, as Ignat noted, piloting and landing these jets is one thing, while combat is quite another.

According to him, Ukraine operates four types of aircraft: Su-27 and MiG-29 (fighters), Su-25 and Su-24 (attack aircraft/bomber). The F-16, however, can combine and fulfil the functions of all four planes. Ignat notes that as a result, more attention is dedicated to it to supply Ukraine.

The transfer of multipurpose fighters from the West to the Ukrainian Armed Forces is gaining momentum. Ukraine has reportedly trained fifty F-16 pilots. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated that Poland could deliver its F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine only in coordination with NATO.

But, U.S. President Joe Biden stated in an interview with ABC News that he rejects the idea of delivering F-16s to Ukraine for the time being.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan told NBC that U.S. military commanders believe Ukraine needs tanks, APCs, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, and anti-aircraft defence equipment at the front lines.

Now, two Ukrainian pilots are undergoing training evaluation in the United States to operate American combat jets, notably F-16s. According to two congressional officials and a senior U.S. official, the two pilots are being assessed, and their skills are being reviewed via simulators at a military base in Tucson, Arizona. A U.S. defence official referred to the training as a “familiarisation exercise.” The initiative aims to enhance the pilots’ abilities and determine how long a suitable training plan could be.

If a good training plan is implemented, it is expected to take approximately 18 months, the same time it would take the U.S. to give Ukraine reconditioned, older variants of the jets.

The Russians’ active use of Su-35 fighters in Ukraine has had favourable outcomes. F-16s and Su-35s will clash if the U.S. authorises the F-16 deal.

The F-16 and the Su-35 are modern fighter aircraft, yet they differ significantly in design, capabilities, and performance.

The F-16, commonly known as the Fighting Falcon, is a lightweight, single-engine, multirole fighter jet designed in the United States by General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin). It was first employed by the U.S. Air Force in 1978 and has since been utilised by many other countries worldwide. The F-16 is recognised for its agility, speed, and range, and it is capable of carrying a variety of weaponry, such as missiles, bombs, and rockets.

The Su-35, commonly known as the Flanker-E, is a Russian heavy, twin-engine multirole fighter jet. It was first used by the Russian Air Force and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Iran is also expected to receive Su-35 for its air force. The Su-35 is recognised for its manoeuvrability, speed, and range, and it is capable of carrying a variety of weaponry, like missiles, bombs, and rockets.

The Su-35 offers many performance advantages over the F-16. It boasts a faster top speed (more than Mach 2), a greater range (more than 3,600 km), and a more powerful radar system. Because of its superior thrust vectoring technology, which lets it change the direction of its engine exhaust and perform incredibly tight turns, the Su-35 is also more manoeuvrable than the F-16.

The F-16, on the other hand, has certain distinct benefits. It is lighter and faster than the Su-35, ideal for air-to-air combat and dogfighting. The F-16 is also more fuel-efficient and easier to maintain than the Su-35, which may be a factor for some air forces.

F-16 Sensors

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is outfitted with various modern sensors that improve situational awareness and combat capability. 

The APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar offers high-resolution views of air and ground targets and enables the F-16 to engage numerous targets simultaneously. It also possesses superior electronic warfare capabilities, which allow it to jam adversary radar and communications.

The Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) is a precision targeting technology that lets the F-16 pilot accurately identify and track ground targets. It has a high-resolution camera, a laser designator, and a laser rangefinder.

The Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) is a helmet-mounted display device that enables the F-16 pilot to aim weapons and sensors merely by staring at a target. It gives the pilot a wide field of view and enables speedy target acquisition.

The F-16 is outfitted with a modern electronic warfare (E.W.) suite that includes radar warning receivers, electronic countermeasures, and chaff and flare dispensers. The F-16 can detect and respond to adversary radar and missile threats due to this.

The Inertial Navigation System (INS) is a navigation system that gives accurate information about the aircraft’s position, heading, and velocity to the F-16 pilot. This is critical for targeting and navigation.

The F-16 has a data connection system that allows it to interact with other aircraft, ground stations, and command and control centres. This enables mission planning and execution to be synchronised.

These sensors and other equipment and avionics give the F-16 pilot a comprehensive situational awareness and allow the aircraft to undertake various missions, including air-to-air and air-to-ground operations.

Su-35 Sensors

The Su-35 Flanker-E is outfitted with various modern sensors and avionics that boost its combat capabilities and allow it to operate in various conditions. 

The Irbis-E Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) radar detects and tracks air and ground objects over great distances and has high-resolution imaging and mapping capabilities. It can also detect and track targets with low visibility and is immune to jamming and interference.

The OLS-35 is a passive infrared search and track system that allows the Su-35 to locate and track airborne objects without producing signals that could be detected by hostile radar. It can also detect ground targets and illuminate targets for air-to-ground munitions.

The L-150 Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) is a targeting system that comprises a laser range finder and a high-resolution camera, allowing the Su-35 pilot to detect and track ground targets accurately.

The Khibiny electronic warfare system contains jamming and deception technology capable of disrupting and confusing opponent radar and communications. It also has a towed decoy system that can be used to divert incoming missiles away from the aircraft.

PLAAF Su-35 Fighter planes
PLAAF Su-35 Fighter planes

The Su-35’s computerised flight control system gives the pilot accurate aircraft control while improving manoeuvrability and stability. It also has an automatic ground collision avoidance system (Auto-GCAS), which can keep the plane from collapsing into the ground in the case of a pilot error or equipment failure.

The inertial navigation system (INS) provides the Su-35 pilot with precise information about the aircraft’s position, heading, and velocity, which is necessary for navigation and aiming.

Overall, the superior sensors and avionics of the Su-35 provide it with extensive situational awareness and allow it to undertake a wide range of missions, including air-to-air and air-to-ground operations in complicated and disputed areas.

F-16 Weapons

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a multirole fighter aircraft that can carry a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons and conduct various tasks.

Air-to-Air missiles:

  1. AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range infrared-guided missile
  2. AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range active radar-guided missile
  3. AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range semi-active radar-guided missile

Air-to-Ground weapons:

  1. AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile
  2. AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile
  3. GBU-10/12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb
  4. GBU-24 Paveway III laser-guided bomb
  5. GBU-31/32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) GPS-guided bomb
  6. BLU-109 penetrator bomb

The F-16 is armed with a 20mm M61A1 Vulcan gun that can engage air and ground targets at a rate of fire of 6,000 rounds per minute.

The F-16 is also outfitted with various countermeasures, such as chaff and flare dispensers, to protect it from enemy missiles and radar-guided weapons.

The F-16’s broad armament loadout and excellent targeting technologies make it a versatile fighter capable of conducting various missions.

Su-35 Weapons

Like the F-16, the Su-35 can carry various air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, allowing it to undertake various missions. 

Air-to-Air missiles:

  1. R-27 (AA-10 Alamo) medium-range semi-active radar-guided missile
  2. R-73 (AA-11 Archer) short-range infrared-guided missile
  3. R-77 (AA-12 Adder) medium-range active radar-guided missile
  4. RVV-MD (AA-11 Archer) short-range infrared-guided missile
  5. RVV-SD (AA-12 Adder) medium-range active radar-guided missile

Air-to-Ground weapons:

  1. Kh-29L/T (AS-14 Kedge) laser-guided missile
  2. Kh-25 (AS-10 Karen) laser-guided missile
  3. Kh-31P (AS-17 Krypton) anti-radiation missile
  4. Kh-38 (AS-14 Kedge) precision-guided bomb
  5. KAB-500 (AS-14 Kedge) precision-guided bomb
  6. KAB-1500 (AS-16 Kickback) precision-guided bomb
  7. FAB-500 (general-purpose bomb)

The Su-35 also carries a 30mm GSh-30-1 gun with a rate of fire of 1,500 rounds per minute and the ability to engage air and ground targets.

The Su-35 is outfitted with various countermeasures, like chaff and flare dispensers, to protect it from enemy missiles and radar-guided weapons.

Nevertheless, the Su-35’s diversified armament loadout and superior targeting technologies make it a potent fighter capable of many missions.

F-16 vs Su-35 air combat

Radar edge

The Su-35 Irbis-E radar has a detection range of more than 400 kilometres for airborne and 200 for terrestrial targets.

The F-16, on the other hand, has been outfitted with various radar systems during its career, including the AN/APG-66, AN/APG-68, and AN/APG-80. The AN/APG-80 radar is an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that can simultaneously detect and track numerous targets. It has a maximum detection range of approximately 150 kilometres for aerial and 100 kilometres for land targets.

Due to its extended detection range and advanced features such as multiple target tracking and electronic countermeasures, the Irbis-E radar of the Su-35 is widely considered more advanced than the radar systems used on the F-16. The F-16’s radar, on the other hand, is quite capable and has been improved over the years to incorporate cutting-edge technology.

Beyond Visual Range missiles

The F-16 and the Su-35 are outfitted with long-range air-to-air missiles capable of engaging enemy aircraft at ranges beyond visual range (BVR). The missile systems these aircraft utilise can differ based on the operator and mission objectives.

The R-77 air-to-air missile, commonly known as the AA-12 Adder, is generally carried by the Su-35. This is a medium-range missile capable of engaging targets at ranges of up to 110 kilometres. It is a radar-guided missile with a high kill probability that may engage numerous targets at the same time.

Depending on the operator, the F-16 can be armed with several air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-120 AMRAAM and the AIM-7 Sparrow. The AIM-120 AMRAAM is a medium-range missile with up to 160 kilometres, whereas the AIM-7 Sparrow is a longer-range missile with a range of up to 145 kilometres. Both of these missiles have a high kill probability and are radar-guided.

The AIM-120 AMRAAM is widely regarded as one of the world’s most advanced and effective air-to-air missiles, with a high probability of kill and advanced features such as datalink guidance and active radar homing. The R-77 missile deployed on the Su-35, on the other hand, is a highly competent weapon with improved guidance and multiple target engagement capability.

The Vympel R-37 is a Russian hypersonic air-to-air missile with an operating range of 150–398 km. It can change the BVR game, but it is unknown whether the Su-35 typically carries it and how many of these new missiles have been manufactured.

Medium range Air to Air Missiles

The R-27 air-to-air missile, commonly known as the AA-10 Alamo, is generally carried by the Su-35. This medium-range missile can attack targets at distances of up to 80 kilometres. It has a high kill probability and may be configured with various guiding systems, including infrared and radar homing.

The F-16 can carry several medium-range air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-120 AMRAAM and the AIM-9 Sidewinder. The AIM-120 AMRAAM is a medium-range missile with a range of up to 160 km, whereas the AIM-9 Sidewinder is a shorter-range missile developed for close-range engagements.

The AIM-9 Sidewinder missile is highly agile and effective at close ranges, but it has a shorter range than the R-27 missile used on the Su-35.

Within Visual Range weapons

The F-16 is normally armed with the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile, a highly agile missile capable of engaging targets at ranges of up to 18 kilometres. It employs infrared navigation and can track and engage targets even in highly manoeuvrable settings.

The Su-35 is normally armed with the R-73 air-to-air missile, also known as the AA-11 Archer. This is a highly agile missile with a range of up to 30 kilometres that is optimised for close-range engagements. It is a highly adaptable weapon that uses infrared navigation and may be launched from any direction.

Canon comparison

The F-16 has an M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon, and the Su-35 sports a GSh-30-1 30mm cannon.

The F-16s M61A1 Vulcan cannon is a 20mm, six-barrel rotary cannon capable of firing up to 6,000 rounds per minute. It has a 4,000-foot range and is accurate at short and medium ranges. The Vulcan gun is located on the aircraft’s right side and is armed with 511 rounds of ammo.

On the other hand, the GSh-30-1 cannon on the Su-35 is a 30mm, single-barrel cannon with a rate of fire of up to 1,800 rounds per minute. It has a range of up to 3,000 metres and works well at short to medium distances. The GSh-30-1 is positioned on the aircraft’s left side and is armed with 150 rounds of ammo.

A cannon fight’s outcome heavily depends on the pilot’s ability and tactics. In general, the F-16 has a faster rate of fire and more ammunition than the Su-35, giving it an advantage in long-term combat. Yet, the bigger calibre gun on the Su-35 can effectively knock down targets in less time.

Pilot ability and situational awareness become critical elements in determining the result of a WVR engagement because the aircraft is generally involved in high-speed, high-G manoeuvres. The specific weapon system deployed will also be determined by the circumstances, such as the target’s range and direction and the evasive manoeuvres employed by the opposing aircraft.


Regarding specific characteristics, the Su-35 has a longer range, powerful engines, and superior avionics over the F-16. The F-16, on the other hand, is highly agile and has a track record of successful combat operations.

The outcome of such a situation would be determined by several variables, including the pilots’ ability and training, the weapons systems and capabilities of each aircraft, the environment and terrain in which the combat takes place, and many others. It should be noted that modern air warfare is quite complex and frequently incorporates many elements other than the aircraft’s performance capabilities. 


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