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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Putin Has a Problem: Russia’s Su-35 (Its Best Fighter) Is Getting Killed in Ukraine

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

It’s a loss that stings. More bad news just keeps on coming for Vladimir Putin’s air force. One of Russia’s most modernized fourth-generation fighters, the Su-35, met its demise over the battlefields of Ukraine on July 19. The warplane went down near the city of Nova Kakhovka in southern Ukraine’s Kherson area. The Ukrainian military declared victory over the $85 million fighter and boasted about the efficacy of its surface-to-air missile systems.

Shoot Down Displays Fireworks   

“There is visual confirmation of the downing of the plane, the pilot ejected,” the social media post said. “In addition, during the current day, units of the anti-aircraft missile forces of the Air Force shot down five enemy unmanned aerial vehicles of the operational-tactical level.”

View This Must-See Footage

You can watch the stunning video of the Su-35 spinning downward in a fiery heap with blue skies in the backdrop below. Before it met its demise, the Su-35 was likely trying to shoot down Ukrainian warplanes that were offering close air support to the defenders in heavy ground fighting. The Su-35’s mission ended in smoking ruins.

Improved Variant of Earlier Russian Warplane

The Su-35 is an outgrowth variant of the Su-27 fighter. The Su-27 air superiority model saw its heyday in the mid-1980s. It can be compared to the F-15. The Su-27 was known for its maneuverability and daring moves with a high angle of attack – even at slower speeds.

How Good Is the Su-35?

The Su-35 can be loaded with 17,630 pounds of munitions on 12 hard points along with a 30mm cannon. Its range is over 2,100 miles.

A Russian aerospace manufacturer says he believes the Su-35 is a fourth-generation “plus-plus” airplane that has additional first-rate specs and characteristics. The Aviation Geek Club explored the aircraft more in a piece that quoted Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation.

Plane Maker Extolls Its Virtues

The Su-35 “combines the qualities of a modern fighter (super-maneuverability, superior active and passive acquisition aids, high supersonic speed and long range, capability of managing battle group actions, etc.) and a good tactical airplane (wide range of weapons that can be carried, modern multi-channel electronic warfare system, reduced radar signature and high combat survivability).”

Expert Says “Not So Fast; It Has Weaknesses”

That’s just marketing language, according to some observers. Aviation Geek Club interviewed a warplane expert who dismissed the Su-35 as having a non-impressive radar with low targeting range and poor avionics that keeps the airplane from having a fourth-generation plus-plus designation. In short, the Su-35 is overrated, and this is on display during the war in Ukraine.

Tested in Syria Under Favorable Conditions

The Su-35 flew during Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2016 but that wasn’t in contested airspace. Syria was the aircraft’s first combat deployment. The Russian air force believed that the Su-35 entered the war in Ukraine as one of its best fighters. The service branch even released a Top Gun-like video to laud the Su-35 in “beast mode” loaded down with numerous types of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles.

Some Combat Wins

The Su-35 has seen some success in Ukraine, according to Russian state media mouthpiece TASS. The fighter downed two Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters and an obsolete Su-25 fighter on July 6 in the Mykolaiv region.

Good Days and Bad Days

So, it’s been a mixed bag for the Su-35. The airplane suffered at least one shoot-down and an expert believes that it is a paper tiger. But it has delivered some combat punch if Russian sources are to be believed. Losses are inevitable in war, so the Su-35 pilot may have just been having a bad day. The fighter may be susceptible to surface-to-air missiles over Ukraine, even though it can outfly any aircraft the Ukrainians field. The Russian air force is not likely to give up on the Su-35 and will continue the war of attrition in the skies. Russia is willing to sacrifice some airplanes as Ukrainian air defenses bend but don’t break. This shows air combat has been costly for both sides.

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.