Derivatives of the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker will continue to serve as the backbone of Russia’s tactical fighter force for the foreseeable future. Other aircraft such as Sukhoi’s new PAK-FA fifth-generation stealth fighter will play a niche role—serving to sustain technology development efforts and Russia’s industrial base. But modernization is proceeding slowly due to the lack of adequate funds. Nonetheless, the Russian Air Force has recovered from its post-Soviet low in the 1990s.
For the Russian Air Force, the Su-30SM is the most important Flanker variant. The flexible, multi-role two-person fighter can perform a variety of roles ranging from interdiction to air superiority to maritime strike. Moreover, the jet’s sophisticated avionics, range, and a diverse payload offer the Russian Air Force immense capability—especially during complex air operations where the second crewman is a boon. “The Su-30SM is like their version of the F-15E,” Michael Kofman, a research scientist specializing in Russian military affairs at CNA Corporation told The National Interest.
The single-seat Su-35S—which in some ways is more advanced than the Su-30SM—will focus much more on the air superiority role, Kofman said. The Su-35S likely represents the ultimate incarnation of the venerable Flanker airframe design. The jet has been upgraded with a powerful Irbis-E passive electronically scanned radar (PESA), new electro-optical/ infra-red scanners, data-links, a host of other upgrades and a vast arsenal of weapons. The Su-35 also features a lighter airframe combined a pair of upgraded AL-41F1S engines with three-dimensional thrust vectoring—which affords it excellent aerodynamic performance.“Nothing can touch the F-22. It’s not stealth, but the Flanker is an exceptional airframe.”Kofman said.
The technology for the Su-35S is also being used to effectively prototype systems for the next-generation PAK-FA fifth-generation stealth fighter. The problem for the Russians stems from the lost decade of the 1990s when funding for research and development ground to a halt in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Engines are always the most difficult and time-consuming part of developing a new aircraft and Russia got off to a late start in developing a suitable motor for the new jet. Ultimately, though, the Russians will probably succeed. “They have the technology and the engineering skills,” Kofman said.
While Sukhoi has more or less dominated the Russian fighter industry since the end of the Cold War, RSK-MIG is still developing derivatives of the MiG-29 Fulcrum. The latest iteration of the Fulcrum is the MiG-35, which offers similar features as the larger advanced Flanker derivatives. The Russian Air Force is buying about 30 of the new variant—mostly to keep the production line alive in the hopes of securing exports, Kofman said. The Russian Navy, too, is buying a handful of MiG-29K models to replace its Su-33 Flankers.
But while the Russian Air Force is receiving highly-capable new aircraft like the Su-30SM, Su-35S, and Su-34, it is not receiving huge numbers of those new aircraft at once. The Russians are taking delivery of tens of these new aircraft over a number of years to replace the hundreds of Soviet-era jets that are currently in service. Moreover, the Russian Air Force in encumbered by having to accept aircraft like the Su-30M2 and MiG-35 purely for the sake of keeping the aircraft manufacturers up and running. Thus, Russia is running a parallel program to upgrades its older Su-27s and MiG-29s to modern standards. Once example is the Su-27SM3—which brings the original Flanker air superiority fighter to a level almost on par with the latest Su-30SMs and Su-35S. Meanwhile, the MiG-29 fleet continues to round out the low-end of the Russia’s tactical aviation fleet with only modest upgrades.
Another issue is that while the Russian Air Force is receiving new aircraft with good radars (most of the new jets have a PESA but active electronically scanned array (AESA) are in the pipeline onboard the MiG-35, for example) and excellent electronic warfare suites, the Russian Air Force still lacks good electro-optical/infrared targeting pods comparable to the U.S. Air Force’s Sniper or U.S. Navy ATFLIR pod. Moreover, precision guided weapons comparable to the Joint Direct Attack Munition are still comparatively rare in the Russian arsenal as the Syrian experience has demonstrated. But the Russians are aware of these deficiencies and are working on correcting the problem. Indeed, new targeting pods are nearing production.
Effectively, the current Russian Air Force leveraged late Soviet-era investments in advanced technology to field capabilities that had previously been reserved for Western air forces—such precision-guided munitions and long-range strike. Moreover, the Syrian operation showed that the Russian forces have reached a level of proficiency where they can generate sustain sorties from an expeditionary base far from home. Indeed, the Russian Air Force will likely continue to incorporate lessons learned from Syria and continue to improve as time goes on. Thus, while not as large as its Soviet predecessor, the current Russian Air Force is in some ways more capable—its crews are better trained and it has much-improved technology at its disposal. The question is really how quickly can Moscow afford to modernize given the state of the Russian economy.
Vladimir Putin’s air force puts on spectacular show of strength with attack helicopters and fighter jets in Crimean exercises
- Stunning pictures from Aviadarts 2016 contest captured jets showing off their accuracy as they soared in symmetry
- Helicopters darted effortlessly above dozens of glowing flares as spectators in awe watched from an airfield
- The national leg of annual competition was hosted in Crimea for the first time in history by Russian Defense Ministry
Vladimir Putin’s air forces put on a breathtaking show of skill with attacker helicopters and fighter jets in a Crimean aviation competition.
Stunning pictures from the Aviadarts 2016 contest captured jets showing off their accuracy and aerobatics as they soared in perfect symmetry and darted between dozens of spectacular glowing flares.
The national leg of the annual competition, which was first held in Russia in 2013, was hosted in Crimea for the first time in history by the Russian Defense Ministry.
Stunning pictures showed a Kamov Ka 50 helicopter soar above dozens of flares in the Aviadarts 2016 competition in Crimea
Sukhoi Su 27 fighter jets from the Russkiye Vityazi (Russian knights) aerobatic team showing off their accuracy as they flew in perfect symmetry
Vladimir Putin’s air force put on a breathtaking show of skill, with a Kamov Ka-52 Alligator helicopter dipping down as a flurry of smoke enveloped it
The national leg of the annual competition was hosted in Crimea for the first time in history by the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday
This year’s competition, which is designed to test flight skills and precision shooting, is being held at Chauda testing ground in the eastern part of the Crimean peninsula.
The airshow saw helicopters showcasing their skill as they flew nose-first at the ground before dipping back up, mock cargo landing softly on the ground and aerobatic teams of jets soaring in unison at impossible angles.
Aerospace Forces Commander Col.Gen. Viktor Bondarev said the decision to host Aviadarts in Crimea was a ‘tribute’ to its citizens as it is the place Russian aviation was born.
He told Sputnik News: ‘The decision to hold such competition at the peninsula was made not coincidentally. This is a tribute paid to Crimea and its citizens because this is the place, where Russian aviation has originated.’
He added that Chauda would be the first sea testing ground of Russian Aerospace Forces and would be used for both competitions and military drills.
‘We will test this ground now, we will see how it will show itself during the competitions, to work in future both from the ground in direction of the naval targets, and from the sea in direction of the ground targets.’
Mil Mi 8 helicopters carried the national Russian flag (far left), and the Russian air force flag (far right)
Sukhoi Su 27 fighter jets put on a display of precision as they dived out in all directions during the airshow
This year’s competition, which is designed to test flight skills and precision shooting, is being held at Chauda testing ground in the eastern part of the Crimean peninsula
One image showed mock cargo being dropped by an Ilyushin Il 76 and landing softly on the ground
Nine Sukhoi Su 27 fighter jets from the Russkiye Vityazi [Russian knights] aerobatic team tore through the skies
This year’s competition on the National level is taking place until June 8, while the international leg of the contest will be held in August.
Commander Bondarev revealed that the winners of the national leg would represent the Russian Aerospace Forces at the international point in the western city of Ryazan.
Crimean residents, as well as visitors of the peninsula, watched the spectacular free air display at the Chauda range.
Access and security were organized by officials, meaning spectators could enjoy the action in striking high definition.
This year’s competition on the National level is taking place until June 8, while the international leg of the contest will be held in August
Crimean residents, as well as visitors of the peninsula, watched the spectacular free air display at the Chauda range
Aerospace Forces Commander Col Gen Viktor Bondarev said the decision to host Aviadarts in Crimea was a ‘tribute’ to its citizens as it is the place Russian aviation was born
He added that Chauda would be the first sea testing ground of Russian Aerospace Forces and would be used for both competitions and military drills
A majestic Kamov Ka-52 Alligator helicopter swept through the skies at the contest, which was originally held in Russia in 2013
The competition comes as Putin warned that Romania and Poland could be caught in the ‘crosshairs’ of Russian rockets for hosting elements of a U.S. missile shield that Moscow considers a threat to its security.
The Russian president said at the end of May that Moscow would be ‘forced to carry out certain measures’ against the European nations, at an Athens conference.
Earlier this month the U.S. military – which says the shield is needed to protect from Iran, not threaten Russia – angered Russia by switching on the Romanian part of the shield.
Work is also going ahead on another part of the shield, in Poland.
‘If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply did not know what it means to be in the cross-hairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security,’ Putin told a joint news conference in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
‘It will be the same case with Poland,’ he said.
Putin did not specify what actions Russia would take, but he insisted that it was not making the first step, only responding to moves by Washington.
Proving to be a display in patriotism, three Mil Mi 8 helicopters carried the national Russian flag and the Russian air force flag
Sukhoi Su 27 fighter jets looked striking as they flew at an impossible angle, silhouetted against the smokey white skies
The pilot of a Kamov Ka 50 helicopter showed off their precision and accuracy as they flew between a flurry of flares
Four Sukhoi Su 27 fighter jets, decked out in the national colors of blue, red and white, were just visible at one point through a thick cloud of smoke
Putin’s latest warning comes as Russia successfully tested an anti-satellite missile capable of wiping out U.S. navigation, communications, and intelligence devices.
The Nudol direct ascent missile was launched from a facility in Plesetsk, 500 miles north of Moscow, and was monitored by U.S. intelligence.
It is unknown whether the Nudol was fired at a target or just launched on a suborbital trajectory but the successful test represents a major milestone for Russia as it continues to modernize its strategic arsenal under President Vladimir Putin.
The developments have been shrouded in secrecy but Russian state reports have insisted that the Nudol is for defense purposes, describing it as ‘a new Russian long-range missile defense’.
Access and security were tightly organized by officials, meaning spectators could enjoy the action in striking high definition
The fighter jets even flew at a steep vertical angle – while maintaining an effortless symmetry – during the air show
The competition comes as Russia successfully tested an anti-satellite missile – the Nudol direct ascent missile – capable of wiping out U.S. navigation, communications, and intelligence devices in May