In the coming several years, the Russian Air Force shall field almost 50 cutting-edge Sukhoi Su-35S supermanoeuvrable multirole fighters in production by the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO), a subsidiary of the Sukhoi company. Last year, the early production fighters of the type were handed over to the Russian Defence Ministry for their official tests. A preliminary report is due before year end on the first stage of the trials. It is to clear the fighter’s full-scale production and their operation by line units. The contract for 48 Su-35S fighters to be delivered to RusAF until 2015 was signed at the MAKS 2009 air show in August 2009.
The first aircraft under the contract, the Su-35S-1, was flight-tested by Sukhoi design bureau test pilot Sergei Bogdan in Komsomolsk-on-Amur on 3 May 2011 and flew three weeks later to the Russian Defence Ministry’s State Flight Test Centre (GLITs) in Akhtubinsk for the official trials. According to Sukhoi’s official news release, flights under the official test programme in Akhtubinsk commenced on 15 August 2011, in fact, using the Su-35-1 and Su-35-2 prototypes (built in an export version in 2008) that were joined by the first ‘Russianised’ version, the Su-35S-1.
The second aircraft ordered by the Defence Ministry, the Su-35S-2, took off on its maiden flight on 2 December 2011 with Sergei Bogdan at the controls and flew to Akhtubinsk this year, with the ferry flight from Komsomolsk-on-Amur taking place on 20–21 January. There are as many as four Su-35S fighters based in Akhtubinsk now (all of them are painted in a blue camouflage pattern and bear new RusAF insignia and side numbers 01, 02, 03 an 04).
The first Su-35S assembled this year, the Su-35S-3, conducted its first flight in Komsomolsk-on-Amur on 17 January 2012, flown by Sukhoi design bureau test pilot Taras Artsebarsky. In mid-February, following the factory and acceptance test flights and application of the blue camouflage pattern, side number 03 and GLITs emblem, it was redeployed to Akhtubinsk (its ferry flight from Komsomolsk-on-Amur to Akhtubinsk included two stopovers at the Belaya airfield near Irkutsk and Shagol airfield vic. Chelyabinsk and was performed by GLITs test pilot Col. Mansur Nizamov.
The fourth Su-35S, now used under the official test programme, performed its maiden flight at KnAAPO on 19 February 2012 with Taras Artsebarsky at the controls. On the next day, Komsomolsk-on-Amur hosted a conference on Russian defence industry development, attended by Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Rogozin, vice-premier supervising defence industry matters. While giving Vladimir Putin a tour of KnAAPO shops, UAC’s boss Mikhail Pogosyan told him that eight Su-35S were slated for production this year, according to the Interfax-AVN news agency. 2013 and 2014 each are supposed to see 12 aircraft of the type made, with the final 14 under the contract to be constructed in 2015. The deliveries of Su-35S fighters are likely to continue after 2015 as well. A new long-term contract is expected to be made, with its volume hardly to be less than that of the current contract.
However, Su-35s deliveries to RusAF line units should be preceded by the completion of the official test programme, under which hundreds of test sorties are due to test the sophisticated avionics and weapons suites.
According to Sukhoi’s official statements, the Su-35 fighter’s features setting it radically apart from other aircraft of the Su-27 family are its drastically novel avionics suite based on a digital information management system and the cutting-edge Tikhomirov-NIIP Irbis phased array radar boasting the unique target acquisition range (400 km) and enhanced multiple-target tracking and engagement capabilities (tracking 30 aerial targets and engaging eight of them or tracking four ground targets and attacking two of them).
Tikhomirov-NIIP Director General Yuri Bely told the Takeoff that three Irbis prototypes have been undergoing flight tests for several years on board the first two Su-35 prototypes and Su-30MK2 flying testbed. The Su-35S fighters being built under the 2009 contract awarded by the Russian Defence Ministry are fitted with the full Irbis radar set series-produced by the Ryazan State Instrument-making Enterprise. Flight tests have proven all basic characteristics of the advanced phased array radar, and most of its operating modes have been tested in flight too. In particular, test sorties have proven the unique capabilities of the Irbis in terms of its ability to acquire aerial threats at a range of about 400 km.
The avionics suite also includes an advanced infrared search-and-track (IRST) system from the Precision Instrument Systems scientific and production company, up-to-date navigation and communications systems, a sophisticated defence aids suite including incoming missile and laser illumination warning equipment in addition to the traditional radar warning receiver (RWR) and electronic countermeasures (ECM) systems. The cockpit management system comprises two wide-angle 15-inch multifunction colour liquid crystal displays and a wide-angle collimated head-up display.
The fighter is powered by advanced NPO Saturn 117S engines featuring a thrust enhanced to 14,500 kgf in special mode and an extended service life. The 117S was developed by the NPO Saturn scientific and production association and produced in cooperation with UMPO JSC. The engine is equipped with a thrust vector control jet nozzle. Compared to other Su-27 versions, the Su-35’s internal fuel capacity has increased by over 20%, the fighter has the mid-air refuelling capability and can haul large drop tanks.
The Su-35’s weapons suite is planned to comprise both in-service smart and dumb weapons and upgraded and in-development missiles in all classes, and smart bombs as well.