Military Aviation

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.

‘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.

‘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.’

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

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • There are some errors here.
    1. the su-35 attack range illustration shows targeting ranges LIMITED by max ranges of missile it carries! the longest range missile is R-27EM with 170km.
    2. The flight test video does not specify what RCS the target is, you can watch it here
    But It's believed target in flight test was 0.076-0.1 square meters
    3. Max detection range is 400km for domestic irbis-e against a 3m2 target, but it can engage (get lock) at 250km.
    4. Russia has lots of R-77-1 in service (spotted in Syria), 110km range, active homing seeker
    5. SU-35 ECM such as Khibiny and SAP-518 also use active/passive phased array transmitters. Not just DRFM
    6. abhirupt sengupta is NOT an aviation expert by any means. He is a journalist and media major. Many go around claiming to be experts on the internet especially quora

  • Watch the manufacturer's video demonstration to dispel incorrect claims made in this article
    Irbis-E has a SAR resolution of 1m, NOT 3m
    SU-35 can perform sensor fusion with other fighters/AWAC up to 2500-3500km away
    IRBIS-E has a TRACK range of 250km against a 3m2 target
    Flight test video does NOT specify what size rcs target is being tracked. It is believed to be 0.07m2 at 100km

  • The youtube video you linked is taken down, show me where did you get it. Or at least what info did you put in.

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