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Su-35: Russia’s Best Non-Stealth Fighter Could Be Headed to Iran

Su-35. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

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.


Su-35. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Su-35. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Su-35. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

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.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New 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.



  1. Mike

    December 28, 2021 at 8:11 pm

    Truly an assume jet fighter, but still a 4th Generation no matter how many Plus’s that are added . It can be tracked . That’s the difference , 5th Gen fighters are almost impossible to track . The same goes for any Air to Air Missiles fired at one

  2. Danny Anwar

    December 28, 2021 at 9:25 pm

    Iran is not a threat only the west is making it look like when Israel can buy everything blindly from USA and Arabs are the typical fools falling for the USA honey trap.

  3. Allan

    December 29, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    You suggested that Israel buy the F15ex to counter the Su35…

    But why? They already have the F35i. Generally a 5th generation fighter has an advantage over 4th generation (even an upgraded one like the f15ex). The f15ex carries a lot of missiles but lacks stealth and many of the advanced avionics.

  4. patrico

    December 29, 2021 at 2:34 pm

    Sérieusement! il faut reconnaître que les SU 35s Stealths ou No sont des “monsters” du sky ! Et que tous les pilotes l ont intégrés dans leurs programmations missions ! Donc c est simplement un, combattant !

  5. Teimour Bakhtiar

    December 30, 2021 at 8:16 am

    The SU-35S has done more than enough to justify the hype surrounding its reputation: This Russian built bad boy has the necessary, thrust-engine power, agility & manoeuvrability to leave the best of the American & the French-built fighter jets; behind – That is especially true when they are manned by our world-class pilots: The rest is the stuff of future & the Iranian air-force pilots, know, how to get the best out of the beasts & own the sky – Long Live ?? Iran!

  6. Alex

    January 2, 2022 at 8:08 am

    As tests in Syria have shown, Russia does not need stealthy aircraft. They perfectly see the F-35 and F-22.

  7. Shawn

    January 22, 2022 at 7:54 am

    Russia will not sell SU35 with AERS radar to Algeria and that is why the deal didn’t go through. Iran wants AERS on the Su35 but Putin won’t sell due to pressure from Israel. Several Su35 were shot down by Israel over Syria due to lack of AERS radar. Iran also wants to assemble the plane along with manufacturing parts and Putin said no. Iran can’t pay with cash since its cash reserve has been depleted from $120 billion to $5 billion but thanks to a spike in the oil price, it has now around $20 billion. Iran wants to pay for the armements with discounted oil of $10 a barrel but Putin said no. As for S400 like Su35 it will be the export version and like in Syria it won’t work against Israeli airforce.

  8. Shawn

    January 22, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    Alex Su35 is inferior to F35 and F23. It is one generation behind and it will get shotdown without knowing who did it. None of Russian planes are a match to American planes. Even Euro fighters and Saab are much more better than any Russian planes. Iran has been cornered by sanctions and Putin knows that very well. What putin offered Iran last week was Su27 that it no longer manufactured but there are hundreds of used one available to Iran. Iran president was so angry that it cut its visit short and left just after 24 hours. Pakistan offered Iran their version of J10 to Iran but it is poorly assembled in Pakistan and crashes all the time. Iran has a weak airforce and Navy. Its army ground troups are poorly trained. They just have accurate bolistic missiles. The world want Iran to stay that way including Russia and China.

  9. Shawn

    January 23, 2022 at 12:17 pm

    Teimour in general Russian armements for export are very low quality. That includes their training. As you recall it was a Russian ground to air missile called Tor1m1 that accidentally shot down a passenger plane in Iran. The system is so antiquated that it could not distinguish between a fighter plane and a passenger plane. you then toss in poor training then you got yourself a disaster like in Iran. The System s300 along with Tor purchased by iran at premium price simply happens to be useless. When Iran purchased 3 kilo class submarine from Russia they realized that the cooling system doesn’t work therefore they are useless.

  10. Shawn

    January 24, 2022 at 7:00 am

    No deal! Puttin just wrote a letter to khamenei that the deal for any fighter plane tanks or S400 is off. He has intelligent reports that iran is buying all these armements for Syria.

  11. Shawn

    February 9, 2022 at 7:48 am

    Putin will keep Su35 for the Russian Airforce. China has agree to give Iran their version of domesticity build SU30 instead for oil at $10 a barrel. Iran has already sent China several oil tankers as a partial payment. The delivery dates are unknown. Putin under pressure from Israel and the Saudis not sell su35 to Iran. Also he is under lot of pressure from pro israel lobby in the Russian parliament to not sell su35 to Iran.

  12. shawn

    February 22, 2022 at 5:20 am

    An Iranian F5 just crashed head on into a school in the city of Tabriz, killing both pilots and 1 person on the ground. Both pilots could not eject due to ejection seat malfunction. F5 is one of the easiest fighter jet to fly and maintain. However, Iranian airforce is in a diare shap with lack of proper training and spare parts.

  13. Shawn

    February 25, 2022 at 4:28 am

    Game over for Russia military export to Iran due to new sanction over invasion of Ukraine. Iran now has to look somewhere else like China for its only source of military armements. China will get oil for Armements. Unfortunately china’s armements quality is extremely low let alone its export version.

  14. shawn

    March 12, 2022 at 6:56 am

    Game over in regards to trade with Russia. Russia now under global sanctions. Iran no longer able to buy or sell anything to or from Russia. Iran still not out of the woods with its own sanction. So there you have it. Putin lost billions in trade with Iran. China is the only country that can sell military equipment to Iran with outrageous premium. China military hardware is much inferior to the Russians. Iran will remain weak in military hardware for a long time come.

  15. Shawn

    February 12, 2023 at 8:12 am

    Delivery postponed until 2035 the earliest. Putin miscalculated and underestimated the power of the USA. Putin military inventory depleted and it is now on reserve inventory. Europe is going to pay dearly on this and the only victory is upon the USA. The war in Ukraine and soon in Azerbaijan and Iran will spill over Russia.

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