Even Higher: Su-35S

Editors note: The Boresight was envisioned to challenge conventional wisdom. This is easily accomplished by focusing on first-hand combat accounts. We are not mouthpieces of any nation, government, or manufacturer. Because the United States since the end of the Cold War still maintains an enormous standing military while at the same time is unable to find the money to fund basic US infrastructure needs, it is only responsible to ask blunt questions on what we spend on our military. A keen observer would note that we are always looking out for our aircrews.

A new video has surfaced of the Russian Sukhoi Su-35 (Russian: Сухой Су-35; NATO reporting name: Flanker-E) practicing for the MAKS 2017 air show at Zhukovsky Airfield 40 km (25 mi) southeast of Moscow. We began writing extensively about this series of aircraft beginning in 2008-09, and with good reason. Please see the video below. The new point of interest begins at playback point 6:29. For the seasoned observer, these maneuvers are simply beyond belief. Simply watch:

Russia continues to refine and improve this design, and in this incarnation of the aircraft, Sukhoi has [again] moved the global bar even higher for post-stall maneuvering capability - not only for Western fighter aircraft - but other Russian designs as well.

With its independent 3-D thrust-vectoring engines, the Su-35S exceeds by a wide margin the post-stall maneuvering of any other combat aircraft in the world and is one or two generations ahead of any Western aircraft currently fielded in this arena. F-22A is only 2-D thrust vectoring.

Most US-Western analysts assert these maneuvers have no tactical purpose because of the new generation of high off-boresight highly maneuverable missiles that can pull upwards of 40 g. We would remind the reader of the combat debut of the American AIM-9X over Syria. The American-made AIM-9X missile - "the most advanced IR dogfight missile in the world"  fails to hit a 1960 era Su-22 at point-blank range from a perfect 6 o'clock firing position. Western experts should restrain their criticism of super-maneuverability regardless. See the video below, listen carefully to its narration.

When capability portrays the West in a favorable light - it is promoted (the X-31 program). When the same capabilities are exceeded by someone else (Su-35S) - it is dismissed. This is why we began this blog in the first place - to confront this juvenile and myopic narrative out of the Pentagon and elsewhere. What kind of a culture cannot admit when someone else has done something better? To be unable to admit this in a mature manner - is simply a recipe for getting people (our aircrews) killed. 

The AIM-9X combat debut over Syria should act as a cautionary tale of why you can't ditch highly maneuverable aircraft. 
Your missile shot that was supposed to kill your highly maneuverable opponent - missed - and now he's coming around. 

We would also remind the reader that super-maneuverability was built into the F-22 and it appears to some degree into a $1.7 trillion-dollar F-35 program as well. Why? Because it is necessary. The F-22 and F-35 have also be fitted with ejection seats and defensive chaff and flare systems. Why? Because they are necessary.

"One aspect of the engagement does raise questions. Asked if it was a straight Sidewinder shoot down, Tremel admitted it took 2 missiles. The infrared-guided AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile missed apparently lured away by decoy flares from the SU-22. It was a second radar-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM missile that destroyed the aircraft. The AIM-9X is the latest version of a very well-proven family of missiles and it would not be expected to be fooled by flares or fail against such an obsolete aircraft. " Source

We have discussed at length (at length) about missile hit probabilities under actual combat conditions not exceeding 50%. We almost chuckle when the latest American weapon fails to hit the Syrian Fitter. The US-Navy Super Hornet must fire a second missile round to bring the Syrian down.

The only predictable thing in combat is - the unpredictable. Assume nothing. Assume none of your own equipment will work properly.

Sukhoi in our view has correctly assessed that in a peer adversary environment nothing else will work, and you will need to maneuver your aircraft into firing position to use your cannon.

It is a smart and pragmatic assessment. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Look for a major push by Russia to attempt to disrupt-neutralize the Western investment in BVR.
[Above] The Sukhoi Su-35S at Hmeimim Air Base in Syria. The airbase currently operated by Russia. The weapon load-out is interesting because of its mix of medium-range active and semi-active radar homing and IR homing weapons (inner stations) together with helmet-sighted IR dogfight missiles on outer stations. At each wing tip are fitted "Khibiny" ECM pods. The pods are thought to degrade Western radio-spectrum weapon performance (read: AIM-120C series) to acceptable levels. External drop tanks are available but never needed on Su-27, Su-30, Su-33, and Su-35.

US and Russian designs represent philosophical differences in purpose and requirements. The Americans believe in maintaining a high energy state during air combat (Boyd energy management). If this was exclusively historically accurate, then you build a fleet of high-speed fighters with high wing loading (like an F-104). The truth is you need both energy conservation and energy recovery.

Stealth is an attempt to ditch the dogfight by eliminating a blip on a screen (shooting at long range, head-on, killing the targets, and moving to the next). Ok fair enough. Then we would advocate traditional aircraft fighter design with better long-range weapons, better sensors, and better IFF over exotic x-band stealth coatings, internal weapons, carriage restrictions, astronomical cost, and poor mission capable rates (as exotic coatings are sandblasted off during flight).

Here is the American Lockheed F-35 and F-22:




It is all too easy to watch stealth fighter proponents stumble over their own hyperbole. If stealth fighters are force multipliers - then by [their own] definition we do not need very many of them. This is surely what happened to the F-22A. Stealth fighter proponents are about to repeat their myopic exaggerations for the F-35. So be it. Then purchasing any more is unnecessary. We agree.

There is no argument about the ability of Russia to refine its technologies to outperform "newer more advanced" types. Too many in the United States have invested too much to concede that perhaps they have been out-engineered in some areas - and at a fraction of the cost.

Advanced Flanker technologies may need an export ban. The future can be uncertain, sometimes it is best to hold your cards close.

Especially with respect to India, we would strongly, strongly, strongly urge the Kremlin not (not) export Su-35S technologies to countries like China. There is no virtue to handing over billions of rubles in intellectual and State development costs to the PRC. India has been an outstanding customer and partner, with no copyright violation or J-11B incidents. Besides the technical skill of the Indian Air Force is vastly (vastly) superior to China, and therefore more useful feedback for a state arms supplier. If Su-35S technologies find their way out of Russia, the world would be a much better place in the hands of Indians than in the hands of the PRC. Seriously Sukhoi and the Kremlin need to look at this very carefully.

The AIM-9X is probably a seriously flawed program and DRFM technologies and new RWR will make stealth-fighter missile shots - no better - than legacy fighter missile shots. Supermaneuverability in the F22 is an insurance policy for aircrews (as are expendables and ejection seats) in case things don't go as planned. That the Su-3S exceeds the American F-22 in low-speed maneuverability by a wide (wide) margin has some stealth fighter proponents becoming hysterical. 

The Russian Sukhoi Su-35 Сухой Су-35; NATO reporting name: Flanker-E, remains firmly at the pinnacle of combat maneuverability, today and for decades to come.

Expect to see even better Flankers in the future using graphene-enhanced materials.

Your Thoughts?

- All media found here is for scholarly and research purposes and protected under U.S. Internet ‘Fair Use’ Law -

Comments

  1. Hi Obrescia:

    China ordered 24 Su-35 and at least 4 of them had landed in China. Within China there had been argument on why China needs to order them. Is it for
    1. The aircraft engine Al-41? It is believed that China ordered 3 sets of engines per aircraft!!! They could have ditched the 24 aircraft and be happy to have 144 AL-41
    2. Gap filler before the J-20 go operational? I'm puzzled by this point also. The J-20 is in low rate production and in as little as 2 years time may enter squadron level service. Why the tiny order of 24 SU-35?

    Thanks for any of your insight.

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  2. Nothing that will make the world tremble.

    Flopping around like a stunned pigeon in flight will wow the airshow crowd I'm sure.
    They wouldn't get chance to dance around in actual combat.

    They will be seen first, they will be shot at first and they will die first.
    And that is the few dozen that will ever fly at any given moment.

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    1. Yes, a typical Western response from people who know nothing about the Rockwell-Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm X-31 program and wont admit that the West can be leapfrogged from time to time. Too much PC sim gaming. Its simply jealously mixed with envy and disbelief. Beside the F-22 was also built with super-maneuverability. In ACM the X-31 defeated a USN Hornet 80% of the time.

      The AIM-9X appears not to be as dangerous as surmised and DRFM should insure Stealth BVR will not function precisely as advertised either.

      - Boresight

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  3. Please understand that (some) people are so upset about the Su-35S they attack the messenger rather than the message. They can't answer why F22 has super-maneuverability. It is there as an insurance policy incase all the "other" technology doesn't work any longer.

    - Boresight

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  4. Obrescia - This is typical American arrogance that I see all over the internet... If it aint Murican then its just garbage and couldnt possibly ever be on our level. No rational explanation will change this reaction, its born from ignorance and imperial hubris. I guess fighting 3rd world countries (without victory I will include) does build an air of invincibility.

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    1. Yes. I would appear so. Also their jealousy is palpable. The spectacular AIM-9X combat defeat (this was an actual operational combat defeat of an AIM-9X) over Syria by defensive flare system of a Syrian Su-22 is simply ignored or deemed "an anomaly." Myopic and childish worldviews like this are going to get our aircrews killed.

      - Boresight

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  5. hi. I like your site.
    You present well reasoned arguments that are very persuasive.
    On the f-35 demo. Bleh, less than ordinary and it seemed to be "twitchy" in flight was wondering what would cause that?
    On the Su-35. Whoaa WTF nuff said.
    Re the difference in design philosophy I agree with your statement "Stealth is an attempt to ditch the dogfight" since it seems to be a common belief amongst western commentators/fanboys that "the days of dogfights are dead".
    However reading yours and others blogs about misconceptions of the effectiveness of bvr combat -(iff , missile pk , targeting etc) along with the evolution of defensive countermeasures doesn't that imply the exact opposite, that the future of air combat will be wvr in which case the Russian philosophy is correct. Agree/disagree?

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    1. Thanks! Yes, we agree. The failed AIM-9X shot over Syria only straightens our point. People forget that none of this stuff is a slam-dunk. Any assumptions made during design, development, fielding, and employment can go horribly wrong (under actual combat conditions especially). This time its the Americans turn. Touted as the most dangerous dogfight missile in the world - the AIM-9X appears to be lethal to aircraft using US countermeasures, and useless against foreign made countermeasures. The AIM-9X program manager at Raytheon should be fired.

      - Boresight

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    2. Hi guys. Some longer comments will follow.
      Let me get a few things straight:
      Conclusions, there are always some conclusions.
      I perfectly agree on the american "arrogance" about these things. It really seems that they dismiss every single foreign achievement which outdoes some of their creations. But, that's not the point.
      I want to tell a few things:
      The Su-35: yes, what we can see is simply mouth opening (just look it up on youtube and read some non-fanboys' comments, since theirs are mostly annoying if anything else). What I believe is, that this one performance (I could personally call it that way, because I believe Russians have promoted these fighter jet-airshows to an actual sporting event just for fun's sake - people love it) does not say much about the Su-35 itself. They know perfectly well what it is capable of, but there is more - next-gen FBW system for the (newly named) Su-57. We know that they share quite a few systems and many of them are kinda developed on 35 while it's in service. In the same way Tesla puts a "beta version" of autopilot in its' cars, so the actual people will get more data and experience with it than in-house testers ever could (to clarify: I'm not a Tesla fan, I 'm an electrical engineer by my qualification even though I' m currently an IT person. I understand the futility of EV in this world right now.) . Well, that's how the whole Flanker family evolved to what it is now - many smaller upgrades to a working machine. Any improvements they can make with the operational 35 could be implemented in the 57 as well. The same goes with other systems. That is why they can introduce the 57 without the next-gen engine. New engine is late (because of many problems, I'm not going into that), but they can get some experience with the rest of the plane. That seems why they are perfectly OK with the reduced order with only 12 of them ordered. They can find and iron out many problems (which will for example hurt F-35 program very badly, as many planes will need to be "recalled" as they say), they can develop proper training procedures, they can work out operating tactics. All of that without compromising the whole fleet with some annoying problem (think F-22 oxygen issue and the F-35 on just about anything). And more importantly, they can expose actual AF pilots (not just test pilots) to the thing and they will have their say too.
      About the AIM-9X: I can't make anything from one single (but not really) embarrassing failure, even if it seems to be really bad. It might have simply malfunctioned (it happens even if your QC and storage procedurea are perfect). That was just one (one) shot. It might still work as advertised in other occasions. Not to say it might have been launched improperly. We simply do not know. But, in AIM-9's history, this situation has happened before (it was mentioned here). Which points to another problem, not limited to the AIM-9, but to the whole industry: maybe there are some people who don't understand that in real combat, you need to adapt. This is the problem with the US MIC as a whole. They work for profit. So when they make a new thing which looks impressive on paper and does what it does on paper, they are in business, they will earn the money. It seems that the "most advanced" short range AAM has a serious flaw. Does that bother them? Not a bit, they happily charge their government for another version which will be even more impressive on paper and earn even more dollars. And meanwhile, rusty old Syrian Su-22s won't make anything from it, because they won't become any more vulnerable than they are now.

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    4. hi Miroslav thanks for writing. Yes our initial reaction to the AIM-9X issue over Syria was to withhold judgment until more facts come in. The problem is the USNavy is not waiting. If you see our "Wild Wild West" post - the USNavy is saying the AIM-9X was actually lured away by the flares of the Su-22. This has apparently happened before with a previous version(s) of Sidewinder. That being they react differently to foreign made flares than predicted. Honestly we don't know what the hell is going on - but someone needs to be fired. We will speak to your other points in a second response. Again thanks for writing. - Boresight

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    5. Well from the engineering perspective, there are two vectors you need to look at. 1-I need to hit something. How does it look for my sensor, could I simply reject everything else? Do I have enough information in the right moment(the moment of missile lock) to tell my missile what exactly it needs to hit and ignore whatever remains (flares and other CMs)? Or 2-Do I need to tell the missile what not to hit and anything else is the valid target? How do I know what the flare will look like if I have never seen it? What if each of them is a bit different? You know, the flare is relatively simple thing. Each one of them might be slightly different (for example in its composition). It's not that difficult to introduce some random variations during their production. Each can have different burn time, temperature, other characteristics. It's easy to do them like that. And the engineer "programming" the seeker has probably never seen the countermeasure he is trying to defeat, not to mention not every target looks the same even without using any countermeasures in the first place. It's like programmer writing a software not knowing what the end result is supposed to be. Therefore I consider the missile failure not a flaw, but just an inevitable consequence of its own sophistication.
      You have already promoted a saying, that one has to hope for the best, but expect the worst. That is what Russians understand well. Because, what if nothing supermodern works(think various EW systems doing their job)? Russians are experts on low end(ish) warfare. And in the case of war, it might happen that even the archaic MiG-21 becomes the best tool that works. And the AK, obviously. Because they still issue bayonets you can put on it...

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    6. Hi Miroslav, well said. Yes. Random variation in production is simply a fact, no one said this stuff is a slam dunk. Combat is always wrestling with uncertainty (thats why its so dangerous) - sometime it almost all uncertainties. The Russian are doing what they can with what they have to work with. The trick is to try and get your weapon to operate even with a wide variation in conditions. The issue is the world was told that a focal plane array in weapons like AIM-9X was looking for hot-airplane-images and not hot spots (not flares). So if the Navy stands by their chronology of events - this missile appears to be susceptible to "hot spots" over "hot-things-that-look-like-airplanes." So i think the Americans have a somewhat bigger problem to address. Good input!! thank you for your comments!

      - Boresight

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  6. So, I watched the video, and I noted one thing in particular...

    The Su-35S has a rather high moment of inertia in the pitch axis, and that should be apparent just from looking at the fighter. Therefore, the Flanker pilot looks to have a hard time gaining immediate control authority over the airframe directly after bleeding all forward airspeed...

    ...I was hoping to see an awesome maneuver similar to the following: "the pilot pulls into the vertical, "pancakes," bleeding all airspeed, points the nose straight down and begins moving in that direction, and then rolls/pitches to resume controlled flight in the direction of his choosing." Didn't happen, and the reason for that is the high moment of inertia at zero airspeed coupled with lack of control authority at those airspeeds - the thrust vectoring doesn't seem to have enough deflection to control the tumble!

    What it demonstrates, and has always been demonstrated with the Su-27 family, is that the aircraft can handle these maneuvers and recover. The pilot, if skilled, can tumble the aircraft in the direction of his choosing, but still must deal with a recovery period in order to resume controlled flight.

    ...SO, what my conclusion is, is that the Flanker really needs a "puffer" or control jet system installed in the tailboom, perhaps as is seen on the Harrier, to manage post-stall maneuvers. Otherwise, these maneuvers only inform the pilot on a practical level, that he has a truly minimal chance of real departure from controlled flight unless the airframe has sustained damage. Control jets, probably fed with bleed air from the engines, would allow *controllable* high-off-boresight shots with conventional weapons. And that, good sir, would make the Flanker about invincible in a 1-on-1 dogfight.

    ...Would still beat the F-35 as demonstrated in the video I linked to earlier today in very low-speed conditions, but flying that slow in combat with multiple opponents would be about suicidal anyway!

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    1. Hi. I not sure what your referencing in the video. Try starting playback point 6:25 to be safe. The MIC needs to decide what is true (truth). Is it the X-31 capability or not? After reading book after book on jet combat first hand pilot accounts, high speed engagements invariably turn into slow-speed turning fights because the pilots are frightened and pull back (too much) on the stick. Fighter weapon schools in the US try to dissuade this behavior and push Boyd energy management. In dealing with an Su-35S Boyd ideas go out the window - otherwise the X-31 could not have defeated an F-18 80% of the time. America went with stealth fighters firing the same primary weapons and our 4 gen series. Whatever counter measures have been developed to try and defeat these weapons will also work on stealth fighters. Bottom line, jet combat closure rates are simply too high and your going to be in dogfight in moments, and all the stealth in the world can't help you anymore. stealth has only a narrow time window of perhaps some superiority (debatable) and then its too late. "It’s important to remember that Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) training has always taught that nose-pointing is critical: “the guy that points his nose at the other guy first - wins.” Highly maneuverable aircraft are also better at defeating an opponent's missile shot."

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    2. 6:25 is indeed a fine reference point for this discussion - I actually had to re-watch the video a few times to make sure that my initial response was not in poor judgement. What I am getting at is, indeed, the Su-35 is a highly controllable aircraft, but at zero airspeed coupled with a high pitch rate, the high moment of inertia imparted from that long airframe produces a semi-controllable tumble. Should the pilot opt to kill all forward airspeed to rapidly change direction, extreme care really needs to be taken or a tumble will result, and direct control authority will be lost in those brief moments. Consider the period between 6:29 and 6:42 - the pilot cannot simply perform the Cobra and then point the nose where he wants it to go RIGHT AWAY. Instead, he has to wait for physics to catch up: enough forward airspeed needs to be recovered for the control surfaces to regain their effectiveness, even with thrust vectoring present.

      My conclusion was thus, if supermaneuverability is desired at zero airspeed, more control needs to be given to the airframe through additional thrust control. Regardless of the excellent aerodynamics of the Flanker, it still loses control authority at minimal airspeeds, just like any other aircraft. Perhaps an aircraft is quite analogous to a spacecraft with no thrusters in such conditions... and this is exactly why the AV-8 has thrusters! The thrust vectoring on the Flanker cannot deflect enough to counter the pitch moment at zero airspeed, so the Cobra maneuver is only an option for the truly elite pilot in a combat scenario.

      Actually, better and possibly more practical than bleed air or a puffer would be something as seen on the old F-15 STOL/MTD demonstrator when it was equipped with 2D nozzles. Those nozzles were equipped with a thrust reverser... if instead of merely reversing thrust, but rather closing off the primary exhaust and venting out either only the top or bottom exhaust, the pilot of a fighter might be able to defeat a tumble as observed in the Flanker. Being able to fly at very low airspeeds is one thing, and may make the game interesting. Being able to loose all of your airspeed and control where exactly you want to point the nose next... and then go there... that's cheating.

      For kicks, here's a demo of the old F-15 STOL/MTD:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0RbanvcPmI

      ...I miss McDonnel Douglas...

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    3. My sense if the Flankers natural inclination without fly-by-wire is to flip on its back and then enter a flat spin on its back. departing the aircraft has been a necessity at times to survive an engagement. my guess it the Flanker retain this ability to depart and then recover though a clever and efficient flight primary control algorithm. Your point is well taken, but we're talking about a regime beyond anything in Western inventories already. Good input! thank you!

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    4. I miss McDonnel Douglas too!

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  7. Hello Boresight,

    If you had enough funds to establish an airforce to provide full defensive coverage of a state with northern and southern ocean shorelines and neighboring countries (with which you are friends with) and provide high-endurance CAP or escort friendly asset missions in distant locations when homebase (our hypothetical country's soil) is not under threat.

    Let's also say this country is on friendly terms with anyone who makes the aircraft you want. And that you have the budget you need.

    What mix of aircraft would you buy? And why?

    _Gurney

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    1. That's a tough question. Sometimes it come down to preferences. India has a good mix of Western and Russian types. The Russian Ruble exchange would make Russian hardware a bargain - so you can buy more of it. The Saab JAS 39 Gripen also look like a good jet. For sheer endurance the Flanker is hard to beat. Its important to buy a mix of aircraft from different countries so; A) of political winds changes your not stuck with a single national supplier that decide they want to embargoes or sanctions you, and B) a mix of Western and Russian types gives a potential opponent a lot more 'capability' problems to solve. An opponent my not have good intel on all your platform types/avionics/weapons types you can employ. The americans really push battle networks - but again your locked into whims of US political-congressional behaviour. Better to buy a mix.

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