Su-35 '4++ Generation' Air Superiority Fighter

The Sukhoi Su-35 is a Russian supermanoeuvrable fighter jet boasting of updated avionics, a new lightweight frame, 3D thrust vectoring capability besides being termed as stealth aircraft killer

The Russian Su-35 Flanker ‘4++ generation’ air superiority fighter has stood out among the seven contestants for the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender as the only heavyweight platform and the only one with an airframe specialised for air to air combat. Coming from a higher weight range the Su-35 can comfortably outperform all other contestants across the spectrum, with a heavier payload, longer range, higher altitude ceiling, heavier and more powerful sensors and electronics suites, and three dimensional thrust vectoring engines which provide a degree of manoeuvrability and a high speed unrivalled by all but the MiG-35. It is the only fighter in the contest confirmed to be able to deploy hypersonic air to air missiles, and alongside the MiG-35 is the only fighter expected to deploy APAA guided missiles. Despite its relatively low cost and high performance, a key drawback of the Su-35 relative to lighter jets such as the MiG-35 and Rafale are its higher maintenance requirements and operational costs - which arguably make it less suitable as a contestant for a medium weight fighter competition.

R-37M Hypersonic Air to Air Missile

By linking an offer to manufacture 114 Su-35 fighters in India with the ability to modernise the country’s existing fleet of over 250 Su-30MKI heavyweight fighters, the Russian offer may well compensate for the drawbacks of higher operational costs. Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation has reportedly offered to provide a number of Su-35 technologies as part of the contract, which could be used to upgrade India’s Su-30 fleet. Many of these will be manufactured in India itself, and this will significantly improve the performance of the Su-30. The contract would see engines and other systems from the Su-35 integrated onto Indian Su-30s, creating a considerable similarity of parts between the two jets and greater interoperability. Thus in turn can lead to easier maintenance and a reduction in net operational costs for India's heavyweight fighter fleet - something which no other contender in the competition has a chance to offer.

Upgrading Su-30 fighters using Su-35 technologies would include integrating the newer fighter’s AL-41F-1S thrust-vectoring engines, a powerful Irbis-E radar and new electronic warfare systems. IAF will upgrade the most sought-after equipment in a fighter jet – the radar. The upgraded radar would likely be the NIIP N035 Irbis-E (Snow Leopard) multi-mode, hybrid passive electronically scanned array radar system, it's a 20 KW class steerable hybrid PESA radar. According to defence experts, at full power, the radar of SU-35 can detect an F-35 at a distance of 58-km and in the tracking mode, the distance drops to 29 km. Designed by the Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute (NIIP), the Irbis-E is a direct evolution of the BARS design, all-weather multi-mode airborne radars used on the Sukhoi Su-30MK fighters. Irbis-E can detect and track up to 30 airborne targets at one time at ranges near 350~400 kilometres, and attack up to 8. In air-to-surface mode the Irbis-E provides mapping allowing to attack four surface targets with precision-guided weapons while scanning the horizon searching for airborne threats that can be engaged using active radar homing missiles. It can detect a target with radar cross-section (RCS) 3m2  at up to 400 km, (towards each other, in an area of 100 square degrees) while a target with RCS 0.01m2 at up to 90 km. It is one of the most powerful PESA radar used in an operational aircraft.

The radar is cited at an average power rating of 5 kilowatts, with 2 kilowatts CW rating for illumination. The NIIP claim twice the bandwidth and improved frequency agility over the BARS, and better electronic counter-countermeasures capability.

This will significantly increase the range at which the older aircraft can detect and track all manner of targets including stealth jets, which the Su-35 was designed to counter, and allow the Indian Su-30s to deploy a number of new standoff weapons previously not available to the platform. This could potentially include the R-37M hypersonic air to air missile, which has a 400 km range and is compatible with Russian Su-35 and Su-57 fighters. The Su-30 design can thus benefit from many of the technologies developed for the Su-35, which significantly increases the attractiveness of selecting the heavyweight fighter in the MMRCA tender.

Russian deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov stated regarding plans to apply Su-35 technologies to the latest variant of the Su-30, and the benefits of standardisation of parts following these upgrades: "After completing the work on the Su-30SM upgrade, changing the layout of the on-board radio-electronic equipment to make the Su-35 and the Su-30SM more standardised and thus cut the cost price and standardising the airborne weapon systems, this may breathe a new life into the plane.” The opportunity to apply similar upgrades to the Indian Su-30 fleet, and to do so using technologies which following the MMRCA’s technology transfer would largely belong to India, could well far outweigh the drawbacks of a higher operational cost for the Su-35 - without even taking into consideration the far superior performance of the Su-35 relative to other contenders. Thus while the Su-35 is likely to be one of the top three contenders for the MMRCA deal, its unique ability to enhance India’s existing Su-30 fleet through technologies provided under the deal may well make it the leading contender.