Next-Gen Su-35s! Russia To ‘Enhance’ Its Air Superiority Fighters; RuMoD Hails The Prowess Of Flanker-E Jets

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a briefing recently that the cutting-edge Su-35 multirole fighter jet does not even allow a Ukrainian aircraft to take off in the direction of Avdiivka.

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“The purpose of combat duty in the air is to patrol in a given area and cover the actions of bomber and assault aircraft, as well as army aviation helicopters, when launching airstrikes on military facilities and equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. With their presence in the air, the Su-35S crews do not allow the enemy to even take off from the airfield,” the RuMoD was quoted saying.

Russia captured the town of Avdiivka last month after a prolonged conflict with Ukrainian forces, which eventually led to the latter withdrawing its forces. After the capture of the city, the Russians are reportedly pushing into the villages near Avdiivka, where Ukrainian soldiers had fallen back.

With Su-35 fighters patrolling the airspace there, any air target attempting to take off will be promptly identified and destroyed under the military department’s guidelines, said the Russian Defense Ministry.

The statement is significant as it comes after Ukraine claimed to have shot down 11 Russian military aircraft in 11 days, including eight Su-34s, two Sukhoi Su-35 fighters, and a rare Beriev A-50 radar plane.

However, the Su-35s, which are responsible for escorting the Su-34 bombers, seem to have adapted to these targeted shootdowns. Claiming the shootdown of a Su-34 last month, Commander of the Air Force of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Mykola Oleschuk, said, “This time, I can say that the Su-35 pilot was lucky: he maneuvered and is no longer taking risks.” There have been no reported losses of Su-35s since.

Earlier, a recent study published by the Institute for the Study of War observed that as Russia’s ground forces moved to capture Avdiivka, the air force appeared to have acquired air superiority over the war-torn town, opening the way for vital close-air support operations. The Su-35 had a critical role to play in that spectacular combat victory achieved by Russia.

The Su-35 has become the mainstay of Russia’s aerial operations along with the Su-34 since the beginning of the Ukraine war. The Su-35 is a super-maneuverable aircraft with cutting-edge capabilities that allow it to execute complex aerial maneuvers and maintain an edge in air-to-air combat.

While the Su-35 report card in the ongoing war has been somewhat of a mixed bag, the Russian Air Force swears by its capabilities and has been adding newer batches to service.

Su-35’s Performance In Ukraine

Based on the proven Su-27 flanker design, the Su-35 is a sophisticated multirole air superiority fighter. NATO has designated this single-seat, twin-engine multirole fighter as “Flanker-E.” It is larger, faster, and has a longer range of flight than other fighters, making it “supermaneuverable.”

The Su-35 is often pressed into duty, working in tandem with the Su-34. Flying together, the Su-35S provides electronic warfare (EW) protection while the Su-34 carries out the intended strikes.

The Su-35S has Khibiny Electronic Warfare pods on its wingtips that can detect radar emissions from ground-based air defense systems or even jam incoming surface-to-air missiles while alerting the Su-34’s crew if it has been targeted. This makes the Su-35 indispensable for such high-risk missions.

Last year, Ukrainian fighter pilots who were flying high-end and potentially risky missions using their Soviet-era aircraft acknowledged that the Russian Su-35 fighter jet was their biggest obstacle.

They told the media that the Su-35 fighter fired air-to-air missiles at Ukrainian fighter jets, forcing them to maneuver and fly at extremely low altitudes (VKS). When fired upon, the fighter pilots know they must abort their mission and do whatever they can to survive.

Russian air patrols can identify a jet’s takeoff even far within Ukrainian territory, making the Su-35 a formidable threat to Ukrainian fighter pilots. While Ukrainian rockets can go up to 50 kilometers, the Russian R-37M on the Su-35 can travel up to 150 kilometers.

This essentially means that Ukrainian aircraft can be detected by Russian aircraft, which can then shoot them down before they can cause any trouble. According to reports, Russia has started substituting the more modern Su-35 fighter planes for its older fighter jets to create a “localized air superiority” on the front lines.

Besides escorting the Su-34 on risky missions and patrolling the air to prevent Ukrainian fighters from bombing Russian formations, the Su-35  has also sporadically engaged in dangerous interceptions of NATO military aircraft.

In November 2022, UK-based think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published a report that stated, “Russian fighters have remained highly effective and lethal against Ukrainian aircraft near the frontlines throughout the war, especially the Su-35S with the R-77-1 long-range missile and, in recent months, the MiG-31BM with the R-37 very long-range missile.”

Although the realities have changed with the deployment of advanced missile defense systems that have the range and capability to intercept and shoot down Russian fighters, Russian officials have remained optimistic about the Flanker-E jets. The Patriot missile battery, for one, poses a massive threat to Russian jets along the frontline, which has also triggered a rethink of strategy within the Russian Air Force.

Two years into the war, Russia has lost seven Su-35S multirole aircraft, which is way less than Su-30 and Su-34 losses in combat. While the Su-35S continues to pose challenges for Ukraine, engaging in long-range air-to-air missile exchanges and compelling Ukrainian fighter jets to operate at lower altitudes, its global reputation has been somewhat dented due to the losses it has suffered in the war.

Despite losing a few advanced Su-35 fighter jets in the Ukraine conflict, the manufacturer argues that the experience gained in the war provides to accelerate the enhancement of the Su-35S fighter aircraft.

File Image: SU-35S Flanker-E

Alexander Pekarsh, the director of the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Plant, said in an interview at the International Exhibition-Fair “Russia” in November 2023 that the lessons learned from the most recent special military operation (SMO) had prompted the rapid development of the Su-35S fighter. Pekarsh clarified that in the current climate, problems that used to take a long time to be worked on are now resolved quickly.