In their excitement about new armaments, many observers have a hard time keeping book on the latest weapons, forcing yours truly to follow a few important systems like the Su-35S. Some even say the Su-35S is already in the inventory, but a close look at press reporting shows otherwise.
The media reported the first series production Su-35S flew at KnAAPO in Komsomolsk-na-Amure yesterday. After these factory trials, this aircraft will be delivered to the Defense Ministry.
Sukhoy has successfully completed preliminary testing on the Su-35S prototype. Preliminary testing confirmed that its on-board systems meet technical requirements, checked its reliability and controllability, its engines, and navigation system.
According to ITAR-TASS, a Sukhoy spokesman said:
“The Su-35S has been presented for state joint testing [ГСИ or GSI]. The first step in the framework of the fighter’s state joint testing will be receipt of the preliminary finding of the customer – Russia’s Air Forces on the aircraft’s correspondence to main requirements with the aim of providing it to Air Forces’ operational units.”
Now recall that late last August Sukhoy said the Su-35S was completing preliminary testing and would start state testing in the fall. Fall has become the following spring, and Sukhoy announces again that the Su-35S is ready to start GSI.
The Russians advertise the Su-35S as a 4++ generation fighter, using fifth generation technologies to give it an advantage over similar aircraft.
The Defense Ministry gave Sukhoy a contract to deliver 48 Su-35S by 2015, but Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer, among others, says the military department will probably buy 48 more in 2015-2020. VPK goes further:
“According to some assessments, the Russian Air Forces need 150-200 Su-35S. The Defense Ministry now intends to buy 60 fifth generation T-50 fighters in all.”
So VPK suggests some think the Su-35S should be a primary fighter rather than just a gap filler for PAK FA.
I agree with those “some” that think the Su-35S should be Russias primary fighter till about 2020 or so.
The T-50 will not be cheap and for most roles it is like using a rolls royce to plow a field.
More importantly the result of buying 200+ T-50s will be a US reaction to spend more on their F-22s… perhaps even putting the aircraft back into production and allowing exports to Japan and Israel and perhaps the UK and Australia.
The main purpose of buying 200 or more T-50s is likely to have more T-50s than the US has F-22s…. which is not a good reason to spend that sort of money.
Both the Su-35S and T-50 will be very capable aircraft but they will also be expensive to buy. With its stealth features the T-50 will be more expensive to maintain than the Flanker.
For some missions full stealth will be crucial and the development of the T-50 will create leading edge technologies that can be used on other platforms to improve them, so there is no question of not getting the T-50 at all. It will be an excellent counter to European F-35s and anything China might develop in the the next decade.
Hopefully by 2020 the T-50M with all new upgraded stuff will be ready for service… remember the Indians are going to be spending lots of money on the joint T-50MKI whose advances can be applied to the T-50 as well.
I think Russia probably needs a light fighter as well… a capable small aircraft that is cheaper to buy and operate… preferably a single engine 5th gen stealthy type that can operate closer to the enemy in electronic silence receiving target data from larger platforms further back.
I don’t think UAVs will replace manned fighters any time soon, but drones with large payloads of AAMs flying very high above the front lines launching missiles directed by other aircraft or units on the ground would be interesting.
The Su-35 order book should be increased solely on the basis that the A2A inventory will become dangerously depleted by 2020 – can’t put all hope on PAK-FA! Legacy airframes will not fly forever, even with kapremont or modernization- aside from the 34 MiG-29SMTs the MiG-29 will be mostly phased out by 2020, and to a lesser extent the MiG-31 and Su-27 fleets as well.
The problem with buying all new tech is that it is expensive.
I think the problem with fighters is quite specific because there is unlikely to be a decent UAV that can perform the range of tasks a fighter can perform so lots of UAVs and UCAVs might be good for long range and/or high altitude recon and dangerous long range strike or CAS or SEAD missions you really still do need a fighter to do the job of a fighter.
I don’t count the Mig-31 as a fighter as it is an interceptor and would operate with the PVO if it wasn’t transferred to the Space and Air defence forces or whatever they are called.
My opinion is that brand new build Migs and Sukhois should be made… but not Mig-35s and Su-35s… they should be based on those aircraft in structure and materials and made on the same factory lines as Mig-35s and Su-35s but they should be fitted out with components from the Mig-29SMTs and Su-27SMs actually in service now.
In 5 years time when the components for the Su-35 become cheaper they can be upgraded directly to Mig-35 and Su-35 level components but by retrofitting them with simpler cheaper components it should be possible to make 200 of each. In 5 – 10 years time they can be converted directly into Mig-35s and Su-35s at reduced costs so you get 400 extra aircraft in your fleet relatively cheaply that are far above the performance of most Su-27s and Mig-29s currently in the fleet.
Longer term Russia needs to decide whether a UCAV can perform the fighter role or if a smaller single engine stealth fighter that can be produced relatively cheaply can be developed to fill the numbers gap.
The Mig-31 can soldier on till about 2020 in the interceptor role and perhaps can be further upgraded with the final 5th gen Pak fa engines and a huge AESA radar and modern missiles… by 2030 it will perhaps be time to develop a replacement aircraft.
What I meant to say is that new build Mig-35 and Su-35 airframes with Mig-29SMT and Su-27SM avionics and systems with the odd bits from the newer designs included to make the upgrade cheaper and easier should be built in large numbers.
I also expect the full Mig-35 and Su-35 aircraft to be made as well.
By 2020 the force structure could look like this:
120 Pak Fa
From 2021 onwards the Su-27SM and Mig-29SMTs in the best condition can be “upgraded” which, along with attrition which will result in a fleet of perhaps:
200 Pak fa
With numbers of Pak fa increasing to replace the Su-35 perhaps another stealth aircraft can be developed and produced to replace the Mig-35.