Military Aviation

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why Ukrainian F-16s will most probably win BVR engagements against Russian Su-35s

Ukrainian F-16s Vs Russian Su-35s

American-made F-16 fighters will arrive in Ukraine this summer: in fact as already reported, the US will allow its Western allies to supply Ukraine with advanced fighter jets, including Lockheed Martin F-16s, in a major boost for Kyiv.

The Ukrainian Air Force is expected to take delivery of the first tranche of a dozen aircraft in July after Ukrainian pilots have been trained and the country’s airfields prepared.

Ukraine has long sought advanced jets and President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the move as a “historic decision.”

Ukrainian F-16s could soon engage the highly advanced and capable Russian Air-Space Force (RuASF or VKS) Sukhoi Su-35 (NATO reporting name: Flanker-E).

‘Yes, I think we will, and it will be very interesting,’ Eric Wicklund, former US Navy Operations Specialist, explains on Quora.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET  YOURS.  F-16CM Fighting Falcon 20th Fighter Wing, 77th Fighter Squadron “Gamblers”, SW/94-0044 – Shaw AFB, SC

‘It will occur at BVR [beyond-visual-range], so not exciting for Hollywood, but we will finally see what the Russian R-77M can do versus Western jamming.’

Will the Ukrainian F-16s have a good chance against the Russian Su-35s?

The battle will favor the F-16

Wicklund continues;

‘I think this battle will favor the F-16. There’re two reasons I think this.

  • While the R-77M outranges the AMRAAM AIM-120 (C-7 model, probably), the R-77M works best against large, non-maneuvering targets like AWACS or KC-135 tankers, that have a large RCS. The F-16 maneuvers very well, has a very small RCS, and thereby will be a difficult target to hit.
  • To date, Russians have not operated against the caliber of EW (Electronic Warfare), and jamming that the F-16 can produce. You see, that longer range of the R-77M doesn’t mean much if the Su-35 cannot get a lock. Eventually, it will (burn-through of the jamming is possible at closer ranges), but that may be after the R-77M range advantage has been negated, and the F-16 pilot has launched his AMRAAM. In which case, the Russian pilot must “go cold” which means turning away from the attack. In such a position, its radar is turned away from its quarry, and it has no chance to obtain a lock while cold. The “Happy Time” of the Russian pilots will be over.

‘While Russia tends to overstate the abilities of their weapon systems, the West tends to understate them. We can look up the numbers on the aircraft, radars, missiles, and EW systems and think we have an idea of what will happen.’

Wicklund concludes;

‘Truth is: the actual numbers are classified. So, I think we will see a BVR battle between the F-16 and the Su-35. I know Russians believe they have the upper hand, but if the tendencies on Russian versus Western reportage follow the pattern, Russian pilots are going to be in big, big trouble.’

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Russian Air and Space Force

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.

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  • Hi to author. If I may ,I will give now some real military tactical and technical facts,data and info. When we talk about possible BVR engegaments there is really no chance for the light single-engined 4th gen fighter F-16.Even if we not count on AWACS help (on its long range air surveillance ,detecting,tracking and vectoring of fighters via digit data link or voice comm) ,Su-35S is far superior and has far more chances to win in any possible tactical situation in BVR engagement.First ,his hybrid monopulse ( not pulse -Doppler like in F-16) ESA radar N035 Irbis is hybrid 'cause it has possibilities of both PESA and AESA.PESA 'cause it has almost 1800 TRE (transreceive elements) on the antenna reflectors and those two TWT's. AESA 'cause in input signals domain,every TRE has its own receive signal processing channel like in PESA N011M Bars-M.In output signal domain,every TRE has its own digital heterodyne signal channel.In fact, waveguide unit inside of the antenna reflector has very inovative digital hybrid-heterodyne output signal system.So N035 can perform like every AESA with sending so many signals/beams simultaenously with different patterns,differ working frequencies and with very high frequency agility(over 1000 times pour sec). It can detect/track e.g. incoming MiG-21 with frontal RCS in centimetric X-band from 450kms away in so called PPS-DO narrow FoV combat mode ( front hemisphere- further detection).Frontal RCS of armed F-16 is much bigger.For those who do not know this fact,N035 Irbis has two huge and very powerfull TWT's where the main has 5kW's on average power in HPRF mode and secondary has 2kW's of average power in HPRF mode.The main can work in narrow FoV PPS-DO mode ,secondary can work in normal ( wide FoV) PPS mode simultaneously.One thing more, N035 has antenna reflector on two-step electro-hydraulic drive (gimbal) ,so total FoV can be increased from 120° (+/-60° in azimuth and elevation ) to 240°, twice as much as of F-16's radar.From tactical point of view it is very important for so called 'beaming tactics' (excellent SLAR capabilities).So,Su-35S can fly very high e.g in upper stratosphere and can detect/track something that flies very low (even low flying cruise missiles or hovering heli's) or can fly very low and can detect/track something that flies very high.F-16 with his radars( old mechanical or even new electronic/AESA) cannot perform that. In High PRF mode with PRF of 300kHz ,max output pulse power of the main TWT is 20kW's and lock-on range in any tactical case/situation with or without enemy radar jamming is 80% of detect/track distance.There is new OLS-35 with 20cm in diameter IRST( MWIR band) that can detect/track incoming fighter on Full AB mode flying in stratosphere from distance of 400kms.Also can detect/track incoming fighter flying on Military Mode(non AB mode) from 80-100kms away. About jamming possibilities of F-16,I can only write this.Ukrainian ex-soviet fighters MiG-29 ( Product 9.13) and Su-27S/P have much stronger jammers from '80s like L203 Gardeniya and L005 Sorbtsiya with waveguide units based on PESA technology.About AAM, there is no R-77M in RuA&SF inventory ,Su-35S possess new Russian R-77-1 (Product 170-1).On March 5 2022 ,two Su-35S engaged group of four ukr fighters Su-27 in BVR with R-77-1 from the distances of 60 and 80kms. All four Su-27's were shot down in the vicinity of Zhytomir(take a look on map where is that city).R-77-1 vs any AMRAAM.First can withstand 50G lateral G-load in both active and passive phase of flight,second only 30G.For outmanauvering/ evading ,engaged fighter must perform 12G turn for the first and 8-9G for the second AAM. First has 50° AoA limit,second only 35°,first has 150°/sec turn rate in both phases of flight second 120°/sec only in passive fligth phase.Time of aerodynamic stability and controlability is 120sec for the first,90sec for the second(AIM-120D).Real Mach number limit for aerodynamic stability and controlability is 0.5M-4.5M for the first and 1.5M-4M for the second.Besides new medium/long range R-77-1, for engaging big (non maneuvering)air targets,Su-35S possess new heavy very long range hypersonic R-37M with max possible authorised launch distance of 400kms (high speed,high alt launch parameters). All best to author !

  • Some update info. Forgot to write about frontal RCS in centimetric X-band of light single-engined MiG-21 and it is 3sqm.Certainly ,F-16 has much bigger RCS when armed with AAM only (even without drop tanks). Other details,if anyone noticed Su-35S flying in Syria carried old IR guided R-27T besides new R-77-1. What was the reason for that ? Old Soviet tactics from 60's implied carrying medium and long range radar and IR guided AAM as combined.It can be very useful for engaging fighters in BVR because when fighter is engaged ,pilot begins to turn and maneuver very hard and sharp and that can be done only in Afterburner mode where IR signature of that fighter dramatically increases. NATO never had this combat tactics and never had any medium or long range IR guided AAM at all! With medium range R-27T pilot of Su-35S in BVR can engage incoming fighter from 35kms in troposphere and 50kms in stratosphere. With long range R-27ET,can engage incoming fighter from 60kms in troposphere and from 90kms in stratosphere.Su-35S can carry max 12 R-77-1( 6 under wings and 6 under fuselage:4 between air intakes and engine nacelles and 2 under air intakes. Also can carry max 4 R-27T or ET under wings only. For close in combat can carry max 6 R-74/L (M /ML) under wings and wingtips. For very long range engagements can carry even 8 R-37M,4 under wings and 4 under fuselage. Note: all radar guided AAM can only be launched via radar data but IR guided AAM can be launched from either radar or IRST data or from both together in so called Cooperation combat mode.About ECM possibilities of Su-35S vs F-16 ,they are undoubtedly on Su-35S side. With its very powerfull wingtip ELINT/EW/ECM stations called L265M10-01 as part of jamm system L175M10-35S Hibiny-M it can send very powerfull intereference signals a couple of hundreds of kms away into front or rear hemisphere of the fighter.ELINT/EW substation called 'Regata' works in 1-40 GHz frequency band together with RWR system called SPO-32 Pastel ( L150-35) in wingslats. ECM substation called 'Proran' works in 1-18 GHz decimetric/centimetric frequency band.Note: waveguide units for ECM substations are based on AESA technology and are specially designed for countering AESA radars in new fighters and new X and Ku band active radar homing heads in new western AAM.Su-35S also possess completely new very long range IFF system based also on AESA technology called type 4283MP as multifunctional digital interrogator with decimetric L-band AESA positioned in wingslats.IFF can be done from over 400kms away. There is also transponder unit called type 4280MD. So,Su-35S possess very powerfull long range centimetric X-band monopulse hybrid ESA radar with capabilities of both PESA and AESA .Also possess long range IFF system based on decimetric L-band AESA and very powerfull ECM system based on AESA technology.There is also one combat system very little known to the West media and its name is 'BOSES-TU Duel-DVB'. BOSES-TU means: On-board Operational-Recommendation Expertise System of Tactical Level called Duel for BVR engagements espacially. Thanks to precise Intel,specialists inserted several hundreds parameters in two digital comps Baget-53-31M ser.1. Paremeters of flight-maneuvering posibilities and combat potential of all NATO 4th and 5th gen fighters ,pretty smart is it? This combat system allows pilot of Su-35S to engage enemy fighters in all possible tactical situations : 1vs1,1vs2,2vs1,2vs2,2vs4 or less ,4vs2 ,4vs4 so in the group or even on the squadron level.Something like this NATO fighters do not possess.I really don't know who that USN Oper.spec. is but as I can see from his comments, he has so many misleading info and data.Maybe it is because he is from USN and not from USAF? As military aviation specialist (radar specialist) ,I can write that so important 'all-energy potential' (energy potential of engines,radar and jammers ,AAM weaponry etc ) is on Su-35S side.That's the fact and that's the true. All best !

  • Some more info and data. If some fighter engages Su-35S with AAM in BVR combat, there is two way to timely detect incoming AAM.It can be accomplished in radar and optical band. First with radar N035 Irbis which is capable to detect/track bigger incoming AAM/SAM from 100kms away( bigger AAM/SAM have frontal RCS about 0.01sqm) ,second with IR (MWIR band) MAWS called SOAR as part of electro-optical self-defence complex called I-222. SOAR is capable to detect/track incoming AAM/SAM in boost phase from more then 50kms away.There is also SOLO module as part of I-222 acting as LWR . About flight-maneuvering possibilities,Su-35S is much better with much higher 'SEP' (Specific Excess Power),better 'Clmax' coefficient (coefficient of aerodynamic lift) ,with more energy in climbing and turning. Although it is much bigger and heavier then F-16, Su-35S is much better in sustained and instantaneous turns, especially thanks to the engines with TVC.Has much higher AoA limit,Su-35S can even withstand 10G load for some time due to use of new construction material Aluminum- Lithium Alloy called type 1441.Altitud-speed capabilities are also on the side of the Su-35S.All in all, if the F-16s come to Ukraine, they will have no chance against the Su-35S, just as the twin-engined ex-Soviet more maneuverable fighters lighter/smaller MiG-29 and heavier/bigger Su-27 did not and do not have.

  • @Aviator77 this sounds like the flying version of the Armata. Weren't two of them just shot down using a Patriot PAC-2 missile from the 1980's?

  • Hi jonathanv ! No ,that is not the fact. By the way, six Su-35S were shot down so far from the beginning of the SMO.On April 3 2022 near the city of Izym ,first Su-35S was shot down by ukr SAM type 9M37 of the 9K35M 'Strela-10M' AD missile system. Pilot ejected and became POW but he was liberated very soon. On July 19 2022 near the city of Kherson ,second Su-35S was shot by this time FF, by Russian SAM 9M317 of the 9K317M 'Buk-M2' AD missile system .Pilot ejected and was found by the Russian CSAR team.On May 13 2023 near the city of Klintsy ( Bryansk region on the RF territory) ,third Su-35S was shot down by the ukr SAM type 5V55R of the AD missile system S-300PS, pilot senior lt. Gleb Dmitryevich was KIA.On September 28 2023 near the city of Tockmack,fourth Su-35S was shot down again by the FF and SAM type 9M317 of the Russian AD missile system 9K317 'Buk-M2'. Fifth Su-35S was shot down on February 17 2024 near the city of Luhansk by the FF ,by now unknown Russian SAM type and AD missile system .Pilot ejected and was rescued by the CSAR team.Sixth Su-35S was shot down only two days later ,on February 19 over the sea of Azov,again by FF and again by so far unknown Russian AD missile system. Pilot capt. Fedor Grabovetsky was KIA. If we question ourself why so many Su-35S were shot down by FF? Answer is very simple, IFF systems are rarely used in real combat. All the best !

  • Some more info for 'jonathanv' if he don't mind.Only three Su-35S fighter pilots have together 17 air victories so far. Lt.col. Ilya Sizov with 12, major Victor Dudin with 3 and senior lt. Ilya Perepelkyn with 2 air victories.Su-35S fly so intensively ,several times a day pour one fighter. Pilots also fly several combat missions a day. There is Su-35S pilot lt.col.Alexander who achieved almost 1000 combat missions only after a year of SMO ( from Feb. 24 2022 to Feb. 24 2023). Su-35S is very robust and rigid like his predecessor Su-27S from early 80's but with much advanced avionics,engines,weapons and theirs monitoring systems of course.Su-35S proved its combat potential first in Syria ,now in Ukraine. I will repeat again, if Ukr AF get those F-16 ,there will practicaly no chance for them in any engagement against Su-35S ( with or without AWACS assistement).

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