Iran Purchasing Russian Su-35 Flanker-E Aircraft
Iranian Pilots in Training
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Following an official statement from the Iranian Air Force in September that Russian Su-35 heavyweight fighters were being considered for purchase, U.S. officials indicated on December 9 that pilots from the Middle Eastern country had begun training to operate the aircraft in Russia earlier in the year with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2023. The development follows a surge in Iranian arms exports to Russia to support its ongoing war effort against Ukrainian and allied NATO forces, with Iranian drones in particular seen to have been a game changer in Russia’s favour while deliveries of short range ballistic missiles are expected by U.S. sources to materialise in future. American officials have thus referred to an emerging “full-fledged defence partnership” between the two countries, contrasting sharply with Russia’s prior hesitancy to strengthen security ties with Tehran due to Western and Israeli pressure.
Su-35 (Su-27M) Flanker-E
Su-35 (Su-27M) is a single-seat attack fighter that first flew in 1988. The Su-35, unlike the Su-27, has more powerful engines, a several times more diverse range of weapons, modern, autonomous guidance systems, throttle response and a security system that, already during takeoff, informs the pilot about air defenses operating in the departure area, about enemy helicopters and aircraft. In addition to the standard arsenal of weapons, the Su-35 is sent on combat duty with the Kh-31 air-to-surface missile. Its distinctive feature is absolute autonomy. It finds the target, and informs the pilot about it, who needs to press the “Start” button. It works only on enemy air defense radar systems, calculating them by radio frequencies.
The machine received a number of decisions related to the fifth generation of military aircraft. The new AL-41F1S engines make it possible to achieve cruising (afterburning) supersonic speed. Super maneuverability is achieved by a controlled thrust vector of engines. The aircraft can strike at ground targets using precision weapons, but its main purpose is to gain air supremacy. The powerful H035 Irbis airborne radar with a passive phased antenna array allows you to detect air targets at distances of up to 350-400 kilometers.
The Su-27M (Su-35) never entered service, and should not be confused with the entirely distinct (Bolshaya Modernizatsiya – Big Modernization) which emerged nearly two decades later. The original Su-35 was produced in response to the requirements of the Soviet Air Force, with a preliminary series units being manufactured. Sukhoi assigned the designation Su-35 to the export version of the Su-27M (T-10M) in 1992. This fighter was fitted with canards and the N011 radar. The financial crisis in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union precluded the Russian Air Force from buying this model in significant numbers. Production of the Su-27M had started in Komsomolsk during the last days of the Soviet Union, and a total of 15 aircraft (including the prototypes) were ultimately manufactured.
The Su-35 had long been a brand name in the aviation world. Since 1992, an export version of the Su-27 fighter (created under the order of the Russian Air Force) has been demonstrated at international air shows. At the turn of the millennium, Su-35 fighters participated in the tenders of Korean and Brazilian air forces. By the mid-decade of the new century, a general concept emerged of a considerably modified Su-27 fighter, which retained the name of Su-35.
As Defense Industry Daily noted in November 2015, “articles from 2005-2007 seem to describe 2 different SU-35s. One was a mid-life modernized SU-27 Flanker, but there’s also a much more re-engineered “SU-35” variant with canards, thrust vectoring, etc. which has been confused with (and possibly redesignated between) the SU-37…. The current “SU-35”, which has been definitively described by Sukhoi, appears to be something of a compromise between the upgrade and full redesign visions.”
The Su-35 and Su-37 were made in Komomolsk-na-Amure. The Su-35 is equipped with 14 guided air-to-air missiles of very long, medium and increased range with active, semi-active and passive radar and infrared seekers. The aircraft can carry out a strike against ground and surface targets with missiles with television and remote command guidance, guided or unguided aerial bombs, cluster bomb units and rockets. There also is a built-in 30-mm aerial cannon at his disposal.
Like the Su-33 it features small wings near the cabin to enhance maneuverability. The AL-31F engine in the Su27 was upgraded to the AL-35F. The AL-35F is more fuel efficient giving more time on station or a greater range. It is also lighter and provides more thrust. Combined with the larger amount of composites and redesigned fuselage, the Su-35 is a lighter aircraft with a higher amount of thrust, and thus an improved thrust to weight ratio. It also has new digital pilot control and digital engine control systems, replacing the analog computers in the original Su-27.
The radar, allows the detection of aerial targets at a range up to 400 kilometers, and ground targets at a distance up to 200 kilometers, the simultaneous tracking of up to 15 aerial targets and attacking not fewer than 6 simultaneously with missiles. The improved “Zuk” (“Scarab”) radar features a mobile (+/- 130 degree) antenna which can follow position of 24 targets with ability to fire to 8 of them. The rear “sting” has a radiolocation system, which moved back the center of gravity, and which along with other innovations improve its tactical ability. Armaments includee: R-77, R-73, KS-172, R-27EM/AE, R-27E, R-27, H-31, H-29L/T, KAB-500L/KR, KAB-1500, H-15, H-65, H-59M, S-25LD, 500kg and 250 kg bombs.
Defense Industry Daily (DID) agrees the Su-30 family has stealthy characteristics. There is an unspecified amount of “reduced reflectance” for the Su-35 in the X-band, which is a popular choice for modern radars. “Further improvements were made during testing by adding radar-absorbent materials, and removing or modifying protruding sensors that create radar reflection points.”
While the Flanker’s maneuverability is stupendous, its long range also comes into play in aerial combat. This allows it to perform repeated probes and U-turns – a Cold War Russian tactic – that can leave its opponent disoriented, exhausted and vulnerable in a dogfight. DID points out that the Su-35’s NIIP Tikhomirov Irbis-E passive phased-array can reportedly detect and tracks up to 30 air targets, simultaneously engaging up to eight. It can also reportedly detect, choose and track up to four ground targets, and engage two. Detection ranges of over 400 km have been reported for airborne targets.
The Su-35’s service life is 6,000 flight hours, with a planned operational life of 30 years.