Home Military Aviation An in-depth analysis of why the Sukhoi Su-35 is the most overhyped 4th generation fighter aircraft

An in-depth analysis of why the Sukhoi Su-35 is the most overhyped 4th generation fighter aircraft

by Dario Leone
An in-depth analysis of why the Sukhoi Su-35 is the most overhyped 4th generation fighter aircraft

There are many 4th gen. aircraft that have some aspect of them hyped up to a degree but none comes close to the extent of hype with Su-35 and Flanker family in general.

The Sukhoi Su-35 is a version of the Su-27 fighter jet that has been deeply modernized to achieve a significant increase in its combat effectiveness against aerial, ground, and sea-surface targets. The design of the Su-35 incorporates the most successful engineering concepts that previously tested well on the Su-27/Su-30 aircraft family.

According to United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), the Su-35 “combines the qualities of a modern fighter (super-maneuverability, superior active and passive acquisition aids, high supersonic speed and long range, capability of managing battle group actions, etc.) and a good tactical airplane (wide range of weapons that can be carried, modern multi-channel electronic warfare system, reduced radar signature and high combat survivability).”

Nevertheless, the Su-35 takes the title of the most overhyped 4++ generation fighter aircraft.

‘It’s marketed as ‘world-beating’ – something it doesn’t come close to,’ Abhirup Sengupta, an aviation expert explains on Quora.

‘Despite being marketed as 4++ gen, Su-35 has the least capable avionics suite among its competitors. It’s the only major 4th gen. aircraft without an AESA radar or any form of Sensor Fusion. The Irbis-E is marketed as having a 350 km range against 3 m^2 target while in reality that’s only in cued-search in a tiny FoV. What’s rarely stated is that in normal volume search that range shrinks down to 200 km.

‘More importantly, Su-35’s radar has a maximum targeting range of 250 km – even for a B-52 like target.

An in-depth analysis of why the Sukhoi Su-35 is the most overhyped 4th generation fighter aircraft

‘We also see this in Irbis-E’s flight test video where it allegedly detected a single target from 268 km but wasn’t able to get a track until 100 km – all the while having just a single target to track.

An in-depth analysis of why the Sukhoi Su-35 is the most overhyped 4th generation fighter aircraft

‘This shows just how misleading the 350 km range figure is in real world. In air-ground, Su-35’s radar can’t engage a Destroyer beyond 100 km and an aircraft carrier beyond 200 km. This is in an era when you’ve F-16’s APG-83 radar having 160 nmi (300 km) range just for creating high-resolution SAR maps.

‘Not to mention that Irbis-E has comparable Synthetic Aperture resolution (3 meter) as F-15E’s APG-70 radar from 1980s. The OLS-35 marketed as ‘anti-stealth’ is the least capable IRST on any modern Fighter as OLS-35 uses a non-Imaging IR sensor, which you can tell from the number of targets it can track – 4.

‘An Imaging IR sensor allows you to track in double or triple digits. Typhoon’s Pirate for instance can track 500 targets.’

Sengupta continues;

‘The Su-35 is marketed as having superior performance in visual range – what’s often ignored is that Su-35’s R-73M/R-74 lacks an Imaging IR seeker – being restricted to 60° off-boresight compared to Western counterparts (AIM-9x, ASRAAM, Python-4) having >90° off-boresight angle along with much better IRCMs & clutter rejection.

‘Off-boresight missiles play a far bigger role than raw kinematic performance in today’s visual combat. It’s similar story for BVR missiles, AIM-120D and Meteor have over 60% greater envelope and significantly better ECCMs than R-77–1.

‘This is before you realise that most Su-35 fly with older IR & semi-active variants of R-27 because R-77 is in short-supply. Lack of competent armament puts Su-35 at a significant disadvantage.

‘The Su-35 is definitely the most capable Fighter in Russian Air Force and there is no doubt that it presents a serious threat to any 4th gen aircraft out there. But to say that it’s on the same level as today’s F-15E, F/A-18E/F, Typhoon or Rafale, much less ‘superior’ is defying reality.

‘In addition to already poor performance, Irbis-E is vulnerable to jamming by modern EW suites owing to a smaller bandwidth, which you can tell from inferior SAR resolution. Combined with substantially short-ranged missiles put Su-35 at a significant disadvantage in BVR combat. Especially against an adversary with a capable AESA radar offering not only superior range but also being highly resistant to DRFM jamming from Su-35’s L-175V Khibiny.’

Sengupta concludes;

‘There are many 4th gen. aircraft that have some aspect of them hyped up to a degree but none comes close to the extent of hype with Su-35 and Flanker family in general. Look beneath the propaganda and they really don’t excel anywhere outside maybe air shows.’

An in-depth analysis of why the Sukhoi Su-35 is the most overhyped 4th generation fighter aircraft

Photo credit: Dmitry Terekhov from Odintsovo, Russian Federation via Wikipedia, Russian Air and Space Force and Knaapo

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