VLADIVOSTOK: Russia’s Sukhoi is finding it increasingly difficult to sell its Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jet, with at least two countries recently opting out of sizable acquisitions.

In December, the government of Indonesia announced that it had decided not to go ahead with its acquisition of Su-35s. Jakarta had plans to buy at least 11 Su-35s for $1.14 billion. Now, Indonesia will acquire either the Dassault Rafale or Boeing BA +3.2% F-15EX Eagle II.

The country may have decided against the Su-35 out of fear of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which obligates the imposition of U.S. sanctions against any country that makes large arms acquisitions from Russian defence companies. However, Jakarta’s initial order for the jets was made in early 2018, at least six months after CAATSA became law.

Egypt, which ordered a fleet of Su-35s for $2 billion in 2018, has also seemingly reversed its decision to acquire at least two dozen Flanker-Es. It seems Cairo is also worried about the prospect of CAATSA sanctions.

Algeria, long a major buyer of Russian jets and other military hardware, decided, on the other hand, not to buy the Su-35 because it was dissatisfied by the fact that the aircraft still has a passive electronically scanned array (PESA) rather than an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system. Egypt is also disappointed by the lack of AESA radar on the jet.

This raises the following question: Did Sukhoi lose these customers for the Su-35 for political reasons (the threat of CAATSA sanctions) or because of the technological shortcomings of the aircraft compared to other 4.5-generation fighters currently on the market?

The military aviation author, historian, and journalist, Tom Cooper believes it's a "combination of factors."

In what he called its "usual over-optimism," Egypt signed a deal for Su-35s that turned out to be "entirely pointless and unrealistic."

Cooper noted that the Egyptians already "swallowed a bitter pill" when they previously sought the Su-30 but got the MiG-29M2 instead.

"The Russians promised to re-equip the latter with AESA radars, i.e., upgrade them to the MiG-35 standard, but years have passed, and nothing happened," he told me.

"Then they ordered Su-35s, only to find out this is equipped with PESA radar, and they would have to wait for years (and pay even more) for the Russians to develop a suitable AESA radar," he said.

"On top of this, they then ran a test, apparently using the first 2-3 Su-35s delivered to Egypt, against their Rafales, and it turned out the Su-35's PESA is simply no match."

Egypt recently tested the Su-35’s Irbis-E radar against the electronic countermeasure system of one of its Rafale jets and, in Cooper’s words, "the latter easily overpowered the former."

All this occurred as the prospect of CAATSA sanctions loomed over Cairo.

"So, there was simply no point in paying for what was clearly inferior to available Western 4.5-generation jets – and then suffering consequences from the end of the U.S. military aid," Cooper added.

In late December, the U.S. Department of Defence contracted Lockheed Martin LMT +0.2% to upgrade Egypt's AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters in the first step to upgrade the Egyptian fleet to the latest AH-64E Apache Guardian standard.

In Cooper's view, the timing is not coincidental but rather "a confirmation of the U.S. 'carrot and stick' diplomacy."