Su-35 Is the Lead Russian Dogfighter Making an Entrée into Iran: Not every fighter jet in your arsenal can be stealth. Russia hopes to transition to its 5th-generation stealth fighter, the Su-57, by first depending on the 4th-generation Su-35 to get it over the hump until more of the Su-57s are built. The Su-35 is so advanced, it is considered a 4th-generation “plus-plus” airplane. Until the Su-57 enters into broad distribution, the Su-35 will be Russia’s go-to fighter.
Let’s examine whether the Su-35 is living up to its hype. This investigation is important because the Iranians will reportedly be receiving their own Su-35s from the Russians which will help Moscow extend its influence in the Middle East through enhanced “fighter plane diplomacy.”
History of the Su-35S
The Sukhoi Su-35S is based on the Su-27M that was introduced in the late 1980s. The Su-27M was supposed to favorably challenge the F-15 Eagle and the F-14 Tomcat. This was during the tumultuous end of the Cold War and the Soviets just didn’t have the time, money, and resources to produce more of the Su-27Ms. Russia also neglected the fighter in the immediate years after the Cold War.
Hoping to make some money back through the export market, Sukhoi later rejuvenated the project with key updates, rebooting the plane under the new Su-35 designation. Early sales suffered and the program sputtered along until the early 2000s. Then the Russians made the Su-35S a priority as the Russian Air Force wanted air superiority to answer advancements in American fighter planes.
Su-35S Electronic Countermeasures Can Save the Day
The Su-35S is a single-seat day and night all-weather fighter. It protects itself well with upgraded electronic countermeasures that include active and passive jamming. The advanced Irbis-E passive electronically scanned array radar can track up to 30 targets at a range of around 217 miles depending on the size of the target.
The Fighter Plane Is Stacked with Armaments
The Su-35’s arms and munitions include a 30mm autocannon along with 17,630 pounds of payload on twelve external hardpoints. It can deploy several different air-to-air, air-to-surface, anti-radiation, and anti-ship missiles, as well as diverse video, laser, and satellite-guided bombs. The airplane usually has six short-range air-to-air missiles and twelve beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles.
Engines Create Agility
The twin Saturn AL-41F1S thrust-vectoring turbofan engines are the secret behind its super maneuverability and speedy agility. The engines push out a top speed of 1,550 miles per hour and a ceiling of 59,000 feet. The airplane also added canard wings near the nose, aiding flexible maneuvers without the need for a broad airframe revamp.
Russian Exports to Iran Changing the Balance in the Middle East
The Russians have received interest in exports of the Su-35 from Turkey and Algeria, but what is alarming for the Middle East is a sale to Iran.
This week Avacionline reported that Russia will sell at least 24 Su-35SEs to Iran as part of an arms package worth at least $10 billion. These were initially headed to Egypt, but the United States threatened sanctions against the Egyptians if it completed the sale, so 15 ready-to-fly Su-35SEs can be delivered to the Iranians by early next year when they sign the delivery contract.
Israel and Saudi Arabia will likely take notice of the Iranian airplane transfer as they know the capabilities of the Su-35. Russia deployed four of the Su-35s in Syria in October and hopes they will help the Assad regime take back more territory from the rebel forces.
This is another example of Russia’s dedication to changing the balance of power in the Middle East to favor regimes that are hostile to the United States and its allies. The Iranians will have to conduct ample training on the Su-35SE before they are operational, but the fighter should eventually enter Iranian service pending the sale. The Israelis have F-35I stealth fighters but are not purchasing the advanced F-15EX from the Americans at this point.
The Su-35SE will be a significant upgrade for the Iranian Air Force which normally flies F-14 Tomcats, F-4 Phantoms, and MiG-29 Fulcrums, among a host of other older fighter planes. The Israelis may want to consider buying the F-15EX after all to match the Iranian’s latest purchase. Iran is not the only problem. Israel also has to patrol Syria and even destroyed an Iranian air defense battery in Syria in 2019.
Su-35: The Bottomline
The sale of the Su-35SE to Iran is another example of Russia’s fighter plane diplomacy in the Middle East. Arms for influence in the Middle East will help extend Russian power in the region and will continue to give the Israelis and Saudis headaches. American Middle East interests are also at risk after withdrawing sloppily from Afghanistan and continually watching the Iranians improve their military posture.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.