Russia’s recent breakthrough sales of the Sukhoi Su-35 fighter to both China and Indonesia have provided crucial export sales momentum for United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), and a very welcome production backlog. In November, China signed for 24 or the so-called “4++” generation combat aircraft to be deployed with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Around the same time, Indonesia agreed to buy 12 of the jets. Russia’s air force is already due to get 24 units.
The Su-35s are all produced at UAC’s Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aviation Production Association plant (Knaapo) in Khabarovsk province. The governor of the province, Vyacheslav Shport, himself a former senior manager at Knaapo, told the Russian media that the orders should keep the factory busy for close to 10 years.
The sale to Indonesia was confirmed by chief marshal of aviation Agus Supriatna, who stated that between now and 2019 the country intends to spend $3.1 billion on modernization of its air force. The 12 Su-35s will replace 17 older-generation Northrop F-5s that are currently in service with the air force.
Part of the rationale for procuring the Su-35s was that they are being touted as comparable in capability to the F-16V, the latest, modernized version of the Lockheed Martin fighter, but that they are also a good fit with the older model Su-30MK2 aircraft already in Indonesian service.
Negotiations over the $2 billion deal with China had dragged on since at least 2011. A preliminary agreement 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 produce its own domestic version, as it did with the Su-27SK. For its part, China pushed to have Chinese avionics and mission equipment introduced into a customized version of the warplane. Back in 2004, the Chinese naval air arm took delivery of 24 Su-30MK2 multi-role fighters.
Among other advantages over the older model, the Su-35S has longer range compared to the Su-30MKK/MK2, which is important to the PLAAF in its efforts to exert control over disputed islands in the South China Sea and other contested areas. With a 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 its wings, the range rises to 4,500 km (2,428 nm).
The Su-35S has a limited supercruise capability, since it is able to fly supersonically (Mach 1.1) on the “military power” setting (maximum non-reheated thrust) of the NPO Saturn 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 results in a 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 would enable the Su-35S to detect the F-22A Raptor at a greater distance and, consequently, shoot first, he believes.
Meanwhile, Russia may also provide the financing for the Indonesian Su-35 deal. The vice-chairman of the defense commission in the lower house of Indonesia’s national parliament stated in early September that there were on-going negotiations with Moscow for a $3 billion line of credit to be used for purchasing Russian-produced weapon systems.
There will also be an industrial-participation package for Indonesia’s local aerospace sector involving production of some Su-35 components and a complete line of maintenance functions for the aircraft. This arrangement will be similar to that organized for Malaysian industry after its purchase of MiG-29N and Su-30MKM fighters.