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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Russia’s Su-35 Air Defense Fighter Is a Real Killer

Image: Creative Commons.

The Sukhoi Su-35 is a reliable workhorse for the Russian Aerospace Forces, and the aircraft has seen heavy use in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Flanker-E, as it is known by its NATO reporting name, is the most modern Russian air-defense fighter in service today.

As a redesigned version of the Su-27 fighter, the Su-35 is a single-seat aircraft designed to take the lead in air superiority and air defense suppression missions. Propelled by two Saturn AL-41F1S turbofan engines, the Su-35 is classified as a supermaneuverable fourth-generation fighter, capable of reaching speeds of up to 1,550 miles per hour. 

Sometimes dubbed a “fourth++ generation” fighter, the Su-35 might remain Russia’s preferred tool for air superiority and defense missions until the fifth-generation Su-57 multirole aircraft is developed. The Flanker-E is equipped with a GSh-30-1 30mm autocannon. It has 12 external hardpoints to carry a variety of missile types for air, ground, and sea targets, as well as anti-radiation missiles. These hardpoints can also handle a variety of guided bombs. 

An Advanced 4th-Generation Aircraft

Developed by the Sukhoi design bureau, the Su-35 first began development in the 1980s. The aircraft flew for the first time in 1988. Intended to be a supermaneuverable version of the Su-27, only 15 models of the first version of the Su-35 were built. Production was discontinued in 1995, in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. 

The Flanker-E in use today is the Su-35S. Its development began in 2003. The Su-35S also trades the early Su-35 versions’ canards for thrust-vectoring capability in its engines, giving it significant maneuverability in flight. While the Su-35S is certainly an advanced fourth-generation aircraft, its lack of stealth technology means it would probably struggle in combat with fifth-generation fighters. 

Production of the Su-35S began in 2009, and by 2021, 45 were in service in the Russian Aerospace Forces. Fifty additional Su-35 aircraft were ordered in 2016, and 10 models are expected to be produced each year. 

The Su-35 has also seen considerable success as an export. China signed a contract for a total of 24 Su-35 models in late 2015. These were all delivered by 2019 and entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. Russia was reportedly nervous about Chinese attempts to copy Russian technology used in the Su-35. Moscow had also initially insisted that China buy 48 airframes, but this was negotiated down. 

A Politically Troubled Aircraft

Egypt was a prominent early foreign customer of the Su-35, initially agreeing to buy more than 20 of the aircraft. However, under the threat of direct sanctions from the U.S., and tired of Russian requests for extensions on the aircraft’s delivery, Egypt called off the deal. The governments of Indonesia and Algeria similarly shut down their acquisition plans. Russia struggled to make deliveries due to Western sanctions, and these countries ultimately preferred to avoid sanctions themselves, and to move on from the politically fraught aircraft. 

The Su-35 saw some battlefield use in Russia’s air campaign in Syria, but this experience gave relatively little to external evaluators. The campaign simply didn’t provide many chances for the aircraft to test its intended role as an air superiority fighter. 


Su-35. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

S-300 Russia Ukraine

Russian Su-35 fighters. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Russian Air Force Su-35. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

In Ukraine, Russian Su-35 pilots have reportedly underperformed in combat against Ukraine’s air force and its air defense assets. Russia has also reportedly lost some of its Su-35 aircraft in combat with Ukrainian MiG-29s and air defenses. Ukrainian military leaders attribute this development to the high skill of their pilots. 

The fighters remarkable air superiority and air defense suppression capabilities have not prevented the loss of some models of the aircraft in Ukraine. Nevertheless, the Su-35S and any future iterations of the fighter will remain mainstays of Russian air power.

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

Written By

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.



  1. Brandon

    May 19, 2022 at 4:47 am


    • Sheiladequintos123

      May 20, 2022 at 12:43 am

      Lol,shot down by mig 29??? According to western writers everything made in russia is outdated and useless…this very su35 is expected to be exported in egypt,indonesia,and nigeria but the almighty United Snakes of America threatened them with sanctions..why do you think they threatened these countries with sanctions if they persue to aquire su35 if it is useless as the west claims it to be??

    • zelenskyy

      June 10, 2022 at 9:50 am

      You forgot to mention that ukrainians shot down su-35, su-34 in a video game.

  2. Meteleno

    May 19, 2022 at 6:54 am

    Parece que é uma informação sólida e que parece insinuosa em parte…a verdade da mentira é tentativa de fazer passar inverdade da incapacidade ou inferior deste caça em combate aérea em comparação com os caças ocidentais ou da NATO. Não é verdade que o Mig 29 tenha derrubado um Eu 35, enquanto a Ucrânia, não tem controle do seu espaço aéreo.

  3. cerberus

    May 19, 2022 at 7:33 am

    LoL !!!!

    • Barry Fernandez

      May 19, 2022 at 8:17 am

      How can one write so glowingly of this modern Russian Su fighter, but the reality of the invasion and the protracted warfare, is telling rather a different story. Downed Russian fighters are found to be operating with basic equipment and electronics purchased at RadioShack.

      • Jorge Luis Yedra Islas

        May 20, 2022 at 3:03 am

        No te dejes llevar por la propaganda ucraniana… Es sabido que los rusos usan equipos extra en caso de interferencia electrónica por parte del enemigo… Como sabrás, la guerra electrónica busca suprimir el espectro radioelectrónico ruso, por lo que llevar un aparato occidental que podría no ser interferido sirve… Es cuestión de tácticas…

  4. Riot

    May 19, 2022 at 10:13 am

    While the Flanker family is a very sexy line of flying machines, no contest there, the author of this article is really doubling down on some serious copium by shilling for this things on-paper performance, when the reality of the situation in the real world is most of these things are dropping dumb bombs on targets navigated to by consumer-grade handheld GPS units…..And ultimately getting turned into keychains in the process.

  5. Roki

    May 19, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    You dont have conformation that mig 29 shot down su-35 some of your info in this text is pure propaganda

  6. Michael Nunez

    May 19, 2022 at 2:31 pm

    This has become hilarious . Russia is literally trying to stay relevant, trying to believe they are a Super Power . The Su is a 4th Gen at best , with no track record other than staying out of the way of F-15’s , Typhoon’s, Rafael’s , F-18’s not to mention today has to face Mig’s . You have to slow down a whole lot to put their thrust vectoring into play , and that’s suicide.

    • scott

      May 21, 2022 at 6:26 pm

      why is high speed so desirable? fighters of the past were much faster.

  7. Damien C

    May 20, 2022 at 4:45 am

    What a nonsense article of the most blatant propaganda. The Su35 has shot down multiple Ukrainian aircraft including Su27 Su24 Su25 and Mig29. No Russian Su35 have been hit by Ukrainian craft, none, ZERO!

    One Su35 was shot down by a ground based SAM the S125 which was networked with S300 radar system. The same S125 which shot down 2 (not 1) American F117 in Yugoslavia

    If the Su35 is of such poor quality why do the US F22 raptors flee from it in Syria when the Su35 intercept them? As for staying away from the F15/16/18 if any of these NATO craft entertain the idea of an air combat with an Su35 the pilots better have their affairs in order because there is only one loser and it isn’t Russian

    • Bill Bixby

      May 20, 2022 at 10:57 pm

      You must be crazy. Russias paper tiger military has been exposed in grand fashion. F22 fleeing from poorly trained Russian pilots lol! You must work for the Russian government.

      • John Leverton

        May 21, 2022 at 9:35 am

        Paper tiger? Learn military history carefully. War conducted by Russia is against a full professionally trained group of fighters called a military, not a collective militia. This is not fighting mountain men in Afghan or people lacking food in Iraq. Nato comes in as a gang of thug against 1. Here is russian war against Ukraine with steady pouring in western weapons. Now let’s talk democracy. Is Saudi democratic for forcing women to stay indoor and take away their liberty? Yeah. Saudi is a US allies. How sad.

  8. Jkyule

    May 21, 2022 at 3:32 am

    Always the same nonsense, propaganda. The Mig 29 is not comparable to SU 35 leave alone bringing it down. The writer of this article is a lair to the core. The SU 57 is already in service yet he writes, till its developed.

  9. Moren. GA

    May 24, 2022 at 12:01 am

    Russian propaganda, how much money did you get to write about the nonsense flying keychain?
    These Russian trash are good only for killing the civilian and innocent children but not to fight with the western flying fighters, we’ve seen these trashes in the in the middle east wars between Iranian Tomcats f14_fantom f4
    _tiger f5_…. And then in Kuwaiti, iraq… The Russian fighters didn’t help Saddam Hossein to stay more than a month!!
    And now in Ukraine ?? ??, But shame on a writer who writes for money and gives false Information to people

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