The Su-35 has lagged behind in the export market before the French Rafale and the US F-35.
In the Russian Flanker family, the Su-35 heavy fighter is considered the most complete and best 4th generation fighter today. However, in late 2021 and early 2022, this super-maneuverable fighter has encountered unprecedented falls: Indonesia announced the cancellation of the contract, Egypt delayed the contract, and Algeria flatly refused. The fighter’s export prospects are grim as ever.
As a deeply improved version of the famous Su-27 Flanker air superiority fighter, the Su-35 has so far only had Russia and China as its main customers. Among them, the Russian Air Force has purchased a total of more than 100 fighters, while China has ordered 24 aircraft in November 2015 with a total contract value of 2.5 billion USD; The last one was delivered to China in November 2018.
As a large country, China is the first international customer. This is clearly a “direct advertisement” for Sukhoi. It should be known that at that time China had very successfully copied Russia’s Su-27 into J-11 and J-16. In 2018, Su-35 gained a new customer, which is Indonesia. Between Russia and Indonesia signed an agreement for 11 Su-35s, worth 1.14 billion USD. This is supposed to be certain; but just half a year later, Indonesia has changed a bit. The reason is because of the US CAATSA, signed by US President Donald Trump in January 2018; Therefore, Indonesia’s purchase of fighter jets from Russia will be subject to US sanctions. At the end of December 2021, Indonesia announced that it had abandoned its plan to buy Su-35.
Also in 2018, Egypt also bought 24 Su-35s with a contract value of about 2 billion USD. 17 of these have been produced, but they remain at the Komsomolsk plant and have not been delivered. The last photo from December 2021 shows the Egyptian Air Force emblem on the fuselage removed and it is said that it could be returned, or sold to Iran. And according to the latest information in early 2021, Algeria was also planning to buy Su-35, but is intending to give up.
In addition to political and diplomatic reasons, the technical flaws of the Su-35 have long been overlooked, that is, its radar. Su-35 is equipped with PESA passive electronically scanned array radar “Snow Leopard-E”; there is a generational difference with the current AESA “Rotten Street” 77-1 radar
Although the Su-35’s weapons, such as the advanced R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile, are no less than the French Meteor or the American AIM-120C; but the radar of the Su-35 is inferior to the radar equipped on the French Rafale and the American F-15EX.
According to Algerian military analysts, the Su-35 is 60% more expensive than the Algerian Su-30MKA, but is not equipped with the AESA radar. Therefore, the Su-35 does not meet the requirements of Algeria’s new fighter aircraft. With a unit price of about 100 million USD each, it is not cheap.
Thus, with the drastic suppression from the US, as well as the price is not cheap and there are designs that are outdated in terms of radar; Therefore, the Su-35 has lagged behind in the export market before the French Rafale and the US F-35.
The bright spot in this 2022, perhaps, is Iran, which is looking to rapidly strengthen its air force in the face of threats from the US and Israel. Su-35 is probably the logical choice for Tehran. But the country’s economic difficulties in recent years also make it difficult for Iran to buy Su-35 in large quantities.