The Paris Air Show this week hosted the first foreign demonstration of the Russian supermaneuverable multirole fighter the Sukhoi Su-35. The specific aircraft on show is the latest iteration of the aircraft, designated Su-35S, 48 of which have been allocated to the Russian Air Force as they roll off the production line between 2011 and 2015. Visitors to the air show were treated to a display of the Su-35's impressive aerobatics, including a demonstration of the breathtaking Pugachev's Cobra maneuver.
Describing the Su-35S as a "4++ generation" jet fighter, Sukhoi claims that the characteristics of the aircraft exceed those of all European tactical fighters including the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon. Further, the company claims the aircraft can "successfully counter" fully-fledged fifth generation US jet fighters, Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor – a bold statement given the stealth capabilities of the latter.
Like the F-22, the Su-35S is capable of thrust vectoring, which is the ability to change the direction of thrust from the engines. This simplifies (in relative terms, at least) the execution of Pugachev's Cobra, a maneuver in which a jet fighter raises its nose to a vertical position (or even a backwards lean), greatly reducing its forward speed. In this position the pilot must increase power to maintain constant altitude, which, combined with a continued forward motion without roll or yaw, is a prerequisite of a properly executed Cobra.
The maneuver was first demonstrated at the 1989 Paris Air Show by Viktor Pugachev in a Sukhoi Su-27, the aircraft from which the S-35 has evolved, without the benefit of thrust vectoring. Though it has been claimed that the Cobra could theoretically be used in combat to cause a chasing assailant to overshoot, it has been dismissed by some as little more than a marketing gimmick and party trick, not to mention one that has been replicated by the F-22.
Window shoppers from potential export markets (i.e. those not on the USA's Christmas card list) in Paris this week may be more interested in more concrete aspects of the Su-35S' specification. Its maximum speed at altitude of 2,400 km/h basically matches that of the F-22. The Su-35S is also equipped with an infra-red search and track system that could conceivably used to detect stealth aircraft within a reported range of roughly 80 km (50 miles) – though whether an F-22 would let an assailant get within 80 km on its own terms is questionable. It has an operational range of 3,600 km (1,940 nautical miles) at high altitude.
There's doubtless a degree of bravado to Sukhoi's claims, and comparing fighter against fighter is far from straightforward. However, there's no doubt that the Su-35 is a capable and fearsome jet fighter.
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