Espreso. Global

What is Su-35: characteristics and features of jets actively downed by Ukraine

10 March, 2024 Sunday

Over the past month, Russia has lost almost 20 aircraft, with Su-34s being the main victims. But there are also some interesting specimens among the downed “birds,” such as the A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft or the newer generation Sukhoi Su-35

Espreso talks about the most powerful Russian fourth-generation fighter jet, the Su-35, its technical and flight characteristics, and compares it to the American F-16.

The text covers:

  • What is the Su-35 and how it was created
  • Comparison of the Su-35 with other fighters
  • Technical characteristics of the Su-35
  • Flight characteristics of the Su-35
  • Su-35 and the their downings in Ukraine 

What is the Su-35 and how it was created

The Su-35 is a Soviet/Russian multi-role fighter aircraft. It is a modernization of the Su-27 designed to intercept and destroy air targets of all classes in both long-range and close-range combat. It is also used to strike ground infrastructure or troops.   

The first flight was made on June 28, 1988, and the first production aircraft took off in April 1992. After the production of 12 prototypes in the early 1990s, the program was terminated. Work on the Su-35 resumed in 2005. Prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russians used it in Syria.

The Su-35 can detect 30 targets and hit 8 of them. The maximum speed of the fighter reaches 2,500 km/h (at low altitude 1,500 km/h). The aircraft is highly maneuverable and can withstand long flights. 


Photo: gettyimages

The Su-35 does not have front horizontal winglets and brake flaps. Therefore, braking is accomplished by deflecting the rudders away from the longitudinal axis during landing. 

The cost of one Su-35 fighter, according to Russia, is $98-104 million.

In terms of armament, the fighter can be equipped with a variety of missiles, including air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-ship, and anti-radar missiles. Reports from Defense Express have indicated attempts to integrate an aviation version of the Kalibr missile onto the Su-35. However, up to now, these fighters have not deployed Kalibr missiles. Instead, they have predominantly utilized Kh-59 missiles in attacks on Ukrainian cities.

Comparison of the Su-35 with other fighters

The Su-35 entered service at the same time as the Russian-Ukrainian war began, in February 2014. Compared to its predecessor, the Su-27, the "thirty-five" has a lighter and stronger airframe due to the use of composite materials.

The Military Watch identifies avionics as the Su-35's major advantage over the Su-27. The Su-27 utilizes a mechanical scanning radar system, whereas the Su-35 is equipped with an electronic scanning system known as Irbis-E. In contrast to the Su-27's radar with an 80 km detection range against targets with a 3 km² profile, the Irbis-E extends this range to 400 km for the same targets. Additionally, the infrared search and tracking system on the Su-35 boasts a 90 km range compared to the Su-27's 50 km, providing the Su-35 with superior situational awareness.

When compared to the American F-16, the advantage shifts away from the Su-35. A Ukrainian pilot, codenamed Moonfish, currently undergoing training on the F-16 in the United States, highlighted the F-16's advantages on Espreso TV. These include superior integration of the weapons system and the exchange of information between aircraft. The pilot specifically noted that, in comparison to the Su-35, the F-16 offers better protection. Additionally, the F-16 outperforms the Su-35 in certain aspects of missile armament and targeting systems.

Technical characteristics of the Su-35

  • Crew - 1 person,
  • Length - 22.18 meters,
  • Wingspan - 14.7 m,
  • Height - 6.43 m,
  • Empty weight - 18.4 tons,
  • Normal takeoff weight - 25.3 tons,
  • Maximum takeoff weight - 34 tons,
  • Payload - 8,000 kg,
  • Engine weight - 1,520 kg.

Flight characteristics of the Su-35

  • Maximum speed - 1,400 km/h at ground level, 2,500 km/h at altitude,
  • Cruising speed - 800-950 km/h (0.75-0.9 M),
  • Maximum altitude - 20,000 meters,
  • Range - 3,400 km without refueling, 6,300 km with one refueling,
  • Combat radius - 1,600 km,
  • Climb rate - 19.5 km/min
  • The maximum operational overload is +9G.

Su-35 and the their downings in Ukraine 

In February, the Ukrainian Air Force achieved its highest success since October 2022 by shooting down 13 Russian military aircraft, as reported by Ukraine's Ministry of Defense. Among the casualties were two Su-35s, while a significantly larger number of Su-34s, totaling 10, were also brought down.

Defense Express explained that although both modifications are Su-27-based aircraft, they have completely different chances of surviving an encounter with Patriot missiles. 

"When the aircraft is at altitude and at cruising speed, to evade the missile, you need to perform a maneuver - dive down with a maximum speed departure and breaking the distance in afterburner mode. In this situation, it really is a matter of seconds, and much depends on the aircraft itself, its maneuverability and permitted overload," the experts explain.

The wreckage of a Su-35 fighter jet

Photo: armyinform

The permitted overload for the Su-35 fighter is about 9G, and for the Su-34 - 7G. In addition, the Su-34 is about 4 tons heavier than the Su-35 (when empty) and must still drop its bombs before performing the maneuver, which imposes additional restrictions on the maneuver. Therefore, it is easier for the 35 to maneuver and avoid being hit.

Nevertheless, since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russians have already lost at least a dozen Su-35s. The first two were shot down near Izium in the spring of 2022, and the third in the summer near Nova Kakhovka.

In 2023, Russia lost five Su-35 fighters. One of them was shot down over the territory of the Bryansk region on May 13, which was then called the "black day of Russian aviation." In the same month, one of the aircraft, which had been conducting bombing strikes, was destroyed over the Black Sea. Two more Su-35s were destroyed by Russian air defense.

In February, two Su-35 fighters were shot down by the Ukrainian Armed Forces over three days - on February 17 over Donetsk region and on February 19 over the Black Sea. Mariupol mayor's advisor Petro Andriushchenko posted a video from the occupied village of Rybatske, where the tail section of a Su-35 is lying in the water. According to the intercepted conversations of Russian rescuers, the pilot of this aircraft is lying "face down in the water".

Defense Express believes that this information indicates that the Ukrainian Air Force is already methodically implementing long-range anti-aircraft capabilities that have not yet been officially announced. Thus, the Su-35 fell as far as 80 kilometers from the front line. 

"Thanks to its long-range capabilities, a frontier is formed in which the enemy cannot carry out any operations without losses," the article says.

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