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Russia's Su-35 Super-Flanker: Mystery Fighter No More
The Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E is the top Russian air-superiority fighter in service today, and represents the pinnacle of fourth-generation jet fighter design. It will remain so until Russia succeeds in bringing its fifth-generation PAK-FA stealth fighter into production.
Distinguished by its unrivaled maneuverability, most of the Su-35’s electronics and weapons capabilities have caught up with those of Western equivalents, like the F-15 Eagle. But while it may be a deadly adversary to F-15s, Eurofighters and Rafales, the big question mark remains how effectively it can contend with fifth-generation stealth fighters such as the F-22 and F-35.
Airframe and Engines
The Flanker family of aircraft is supermaneuverable—meaning it is engineered to perform controlled maneuvers that are impossible through regular aerodynamic mechanisms. In the Su-35, this is in part achieved through use of thrust-vectoring engines: the nozzles of its Saturn AL-41F1S turbofans can independently point in different directions in flight to assist the aircraft in rolling and yawing. Only one operational Western fighter, the F-22 Raptor, has similar technology.
This also allows the Su-35 to achieve very high angles-of-attack—in other words, the plane can be moving in one direction while its nose is pointed in another. A high angle of attack allows an aircraft to more easily train its weapons on an evading target and execute tight maneuvers.
This video of a Su-35 at the 2013 Paris Air Show demonstrates its remarkable maneuverability.
The Su-35 has twelve to fourteen weapons hardpoints, giving it an excellent loadout compared to the eight hardpoints on the F-15C and F-22, or the four internally stowed missiles on the F-35.
At long range, the Su-35 can use K-77M radar-guided missiles (known by NATO as the AA-12 Adder), which are claimed to have range of over 120 miles.
For shorter-range engagements, the R-74 (NATO designation: AA-11 Archer) infrared-guided missile is capable of targeting “off boresight”—simply by looking through a helmet-mounted optical sight, the pilot can target an enemy plane up sixty degrees away from where his plane is pointed. The R-74 has a range of over twenty-five miles, and also uses thrust-vectoring technology.
The medium-range R-27 missile and the extra long-range R-37 (aka the AA-13 Arrow, for use against AWACs, EW and tanker aircraft) complete the Su-35’s air-to-air missile selection.
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