Are Days Numbered for Russia’s Su-35 Fighter Jet?
Sukhoi Su-30 fighter
Upgrade of Russias Sukhoi Su-30SM fighters to equip them with armaments, radar, sensors and engines from the more powerful Su-35 aircraft may hinder the market for the latter which is the current top-line Russian fighter jet.
With the Su-35 being much pricier than the Su-30; operators of the latter may find a strong value proposition in upgrading their existing aircraft to the Su-35 standard an even more cost-effective option.
In addition, with Russia working hard to get their 5th generation stealth fighter, the Su-57 into the Russian air force and then onto the world market, the unique selling proposition (USP) of the leading fighter of the previous generation would be considerably dented.
“After completing the work on the Su-30SM upgrade, changing the layout of the onboard radio-electronic equipment to make the Su-35 and the Su-30SM more standardized and thus cut the cost price and standardizing the airborne weapon systems, this may breathe a new life into the plane,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, said in February of this year.
Su-30 aircraft manufacturer, Irkut Aircraft Corporation is responsible for the upgrade of the fighters. Prototype of the first upgraded jet will likely be ready by the end of 2019, Russian media reported.
"The fighter regiment of the Western Military District will get a batch of Su-30SM fighters under the state defense procurement plan with an upgraded engine. The first batch is planned for delivery in 2021. The new fighters are set to be outfitted with the latest AL-41F-1S engines (from the Su-35)," TASS said quoting the Military Districts press office on August 5.
As part of the Su-30SM upgrade, older fighters would get the same AL-41F-1S (also known as article 117S) thrust-vectoring engines that propel the newer Su-35 jets. Current generation Su-30SM and their variants such as the SU-30MKI (India), Su-30MKM (Malaysia) are equipped with the AL-31F engine or its variants which provide a maximum thrust of 12,500 kgf; while the new AL-41F-1S engine provides 14000 kgf of thrust allowing the aircraft to go faster or carry more weapons.
The 117S is a modular two-shaft turbofan engine with thrust vector control and integrated digital control. The engine conforms to its predecessors, the AL-31F and AL-31FP engines. This makes it possible to use the 117S engine for upgrading the entire fleet of previously built Su-27-/Su-30-type aircraft, with minor engine nacelle and equipment modifications.
Su-30's AL-31F engine
“The upgrade will boost the fighters combat capabilities: it will increase the range of detecting and identifying air targets and furnish the plane with new precision weapons to hit air, ground and sea targets at a range of several hundred kilometres,” Russian state media reported.
The Su-30SM upgrade is touted to boost the fighters combat capabilities by increasing the range of detection and identification of aerial targets. According to the Russian media, the upgrade will furnish the plane with new precision weapons to hit air, ground and sea targets at a range of several hundred kilometres.
On the other hand, Russias most advanced fighter till date, the Su-57 fifth-generation stealth fighter is powered by two engines: AL-41F-1 and the Izdelie 30. The former produces 144.5kN (14,734 kgf) while the latter produces 189kN (19,272 kgf) of afterburning thrust. The main avionics systems are the Sh121 Multifunctional Integrated Radio Electronic System (MIRES) and the 101KS Atoll Electro-Optical System.
The Sh121 MIRES consists of the N036 Byelka radar and the L402 Himalayas electronic counter-measures systems. The N036 Byelka radar features five AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Arrays) systems, three X-band and two L-band, and its also the first AESA radar used on a Russian aircraft.
The Su-57 entered serial-production of the jets this July, and the first of the 76 ordered jets will be delivered to the Russian forces by the end of the year. An export version of the jet, the Su-57E, could be offered to prospective customers in the Middle East and Asia at the Dubai Air show in November this year. According to the reports, an aircraft carrier version of the fighter is also in the cards.
Defenseworld.net has compiled the features of the two fighters for comparison:
Upgraded Su-30 features
Wingspan, Length, Height (metre)
14.7, 21.935, 6.36
14.7, 22.2, 6.43
Empty/ Maximum (kg)
Max Payload (kg)
2 AL-31F turbofan engines
2 AL-41F-1S modular two-shaft turbofan engine
AL-41F-1S modular two-shaft turbofan engine
Maximum Thrust with afterburner
122.58kN (12,500 kgf)
142kN (14,480 kgf)
137.3kN (14,000 kgf)
Prominent Air To Air Missiles
R-27R/ER/T/ET/P, R-73E, RVV-AE
R-27RE/TE, R-40, R-60, R-73E, R-77M/P/T, R-74
Air To Surface Missiles
Kh-25ML, Kh-29L/TE, 3M-14AE
3M-54AE1, Kh-31A/AD, Kh-35U, Kh-59MK, Yakhont
Avionics, Radars, Sensors
Bars planar array radar
OEPS-27 electro-optical targeting system
SPO-15 Radar Warning Receiver
Su-30MKI: SAP-518 pods
Irbis-E passive electronically scanned array radar
OLS-35 infra-red search and track system
L175M Khibiny-M electronic countermeasures system
Proposed upgrade for Su-30MKI by India:
101KS-V Infrared Search and Track System
DRDO-DARE developed Dual Color Missile Approaching Warning System
Dhruti Radar Warning Receiver
DARE High Band Jammer (to replace SAP-518 pods)
DRDO SIVA targeting pod
Cockpit: SAMTEL-HAL Display System
Till date, over 600 Su-30 fighters have been built. Multiple variants of the jet are currently in use with military forces across the world, like India, China, Malaysia, Venezuela, Algeria, and more. The other countries eyeing to acquire the aircraft include Iran, and India, which seeks to buy 18 additional Su-30s to supplement its depleting fleet of fighters.
Sales and prospects for the Su-35 have not gone beyond a firm sale of 24 jets to China and 11 jets to Indonesia. United Arab Emirates (UAE) is said to be negotiating with Russia for 24 Su-35s, and it was reported in March 2019 that Egypt would procure over a two dozen of these Sukhoi jets.
China has 24 Su-35 jets, deliveries of which were completed in November 2018. In June 2019, Russia offered China a second batch of Su-35 fighters for which the Chinese are not known to have responded positively so far. Russia has also offered these fighters to Turkey after it was expelled from the F-35 programme this July and Ankara too has not spoken out positively about any Su-35 purchase.
The Su-30 modernization program could hamper the sales prospect for the Su-35s by bringing the capabilities of Su-30 and Su-35 fighters closer. Prices of the Su-30 and Su-35 jets are pegged at $38 million (in 2012) and $85 million (in 2015) respectively. The Su-57 advanced stealth jet on the other hand, is expected to cost $50 million per unit (likely price in 2014, the final price could be revealed when the aircraft is offered for foreign sales).
$37.5 million in 2012
Su-30MKI: $52 million in 2014
$83-85 million in 2015
Su-30 (Russia), Su-30MKI (India), Su-30MKA (Algeria), Su-30MKM (Malaysia), Su-30SM (Russia), Su-30MK2 (China, Uganda, Indonesia), Su-30MK2V (Vietnam), Su-30MKV (Venezuela)
Su-27M/ Su-35, Su-37, Su-35UB, Su-35BM, Su-35S (China)
Armenia- 4 ordered
Belarus- 12 ordered
India- 249 in service, 12 on order
Myanmar- 6 ordered
Russia- 165 in service, 6 on order, 50 planned
Uganda- 6 order
Venezuela- 24 in service, 12 on order
Iran's defense minister announced in February 2016 that the country intends to buy an undisclosed number of the Su-30SM jets
Indian Air Force- 18 Su-30MKI