China has finally been confirmed as the first export customer for the Sukhoi Su-35 combat aircraft, with an order for 24 worth an estimated $2 billion. The deal was sealed at a meeting on November 17 between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission. The Chinese guest came to Moscow for 20th session of the Russian-Chinese Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation.
“The protracted negotiations on the Su-35 to China drew to a close, and we signed the contract,” said Sergei Chemezov, director-general of Rostec Corporation, the Russian state industrial development authority. China first expressed interest in the Su-35S in 2008, when then-PLAAF commander Xu Qiliang inspected the stand of Sukhoi corporation at Airshow China, and was briefed on the type. Subsequently, a formal application was filed in 2011.
Preliminary agreement on the sale was reached the following year, but contractual work on financial and technical issues proceeded slowly. Russia suspected that if China bought only a small quantity it would reverse-engineer the Su-35 and launch a copy into production locally, as it did with the Su-27SK. For its part, China requested that Sukhoi integrate Chinese avionics and mission equipment onto a customized Chinese version. The deal restores China in the role of a major client for Russian combat jets, after a break of more than 10 years, following shipments of 24 Su-30MK2 multirole fighters to the Chinese naval air arm in 2004.
Among other advantages over the older model, the Su-35S has longer range compared to the Su-30MKK/MK2, which is important to ensure PLAAF control over disputed islands in the South China Sea and other contested areas. With gross weight of 34.5 metric tons (76,060 pounds), the Su-35S can carry 11.5 metric tons of fuel (25,353 pounds) internally for a 3,600-km (1,943 nm) range. With two 2,000-liter drop tanks under wing, the range rises to 4,500 km (2,428 nm).
Sukhoi describes the Su-35S as a “4++” generation warplane. It has a limited supercruise capability, since it is able to fly supersonically (M=1.1) on “military power” setting (maximum non-reheated thrust) of the NPO Saturn Item 117S turbofan engines. These each develop 14,500 kg (32,000 pounds) of thrust at full afterburner and 8,800 kg (19,400 pounds) at military power. This feature sets it apart from all other Sukhoi “Flanker” family fighters.
Another important feature is the powerful multimode radar, the N-035 Irbis from Tikhomirov’s NIIP subsidiary. According to NIIP general director Yuri Belyi, the mean emitting power for the N-035 averages at 5 kW, while the maximum emitting power is 20 kW, which produces the detection range of “about 400 kilometers” (216 nm). Unlike the latest U.S. and European airborne fire control radars with active electronically scanned arrays (AESAs), the N-035 has passive e-scan. “I believe that, despite the rapid development of active array technologies, the passive array still has a market niche. The active array is costly and not affordable for some customers,” said Belyi. In a head-on scenario, the high-power N-035 enables the Su-35S to detect the F-22A Raptor at a greater distance, and, consequently, shoot first, he believes.
Even though the Russian air force accepted a small number of Su-27M (initial Su-35 versions) in 1996, that design was later found inadequate. Sukhoi resumed work on the Su-35 early in the new century, focusing on accommodation of the more modern radar and the more powerful engines. The design house abolished its earlier “integral triplane concept” (Su-30MKI, Su-33 and Su-27M) for classic aerodynamic design to reduce drag at transonic and supersonic regimes. The reworked Su-35S flew for the first time in 2008.
The Russian air force ordered 48 aircraft in 2009, due for delivery in 2012 through 2015, and placed a follow-on order for 48 more earlier this year. In July, the service accepted its 35th and 36th deliveries. At that time, the manufacturing plant KnAAPO said it was going to deliver 12 more aircraft by the year-end.
Indonesia has also declared an intent to procure the Su-35S, whereas South Korea and Brazil declined repeated offers of the type.