In 2015 China and Russia signed a deal for the purchase of the advanced multirole fighter Su-35 from the latter. This December the Chinese was delivered the second batch of Su-35 comprising of 10 fighters by Russia. It is interesting to note that the Chinese would be buying only 24 jets. It is definitely not for safekeeping of Chinese air space as 24 jets don’t make much of difference. Here in this article we compare two neighboring nations recent additions to their respective air forces-The Indian Air Force’s Rafale and PLAAF’s Su-35.
Salient Features Of DASSAULT RAFALE
• F3 standard: Since 2008, all Rafales sold off are of F3 standard-ability to carry French ASMP-A air-launched nuclear missiles,full integration with the Reco NG reconnaissance pod, implementation of all currently planned modes for the RBE2 radar, anti-ship attack with the Exocet and support for an improved tanker pack.
• Reduced RCS: RCS, or Radar Cross Section is the factor which determines how much of the bird is visible to enemy radar. Rafale incorporates a sleek design and stealthy intakes to reduce RCS. Dassault claims to have built the airframe with over 70% of it been composites.
• METEOR factor: What really sets Rafale a class apart is the induction of MBDA BVRAAM METEOR. With operational range >100km ( 60km-no escape zone), it is a radar seeking missile capable of hitting its enemy even before it realizes it has been targeted.
• Advanced Thales avionics: provides, wide angle holographic display, aircraft control data, mission data and firing cues.
• SPECTRA: It (Self-Protection Equipment Countering Threats to Rafale Aircraft) is a state-of-the art Electronic Warfare suite developed by Thales. It plays a very key role in reducing the fighter’s RCS by ‘Active Cancellation’ technology.
• Maneuverability: Its unstable delta wing configuration allows for better controls and gives the aircraft high agility during close encounters with the aid of the canards. A new engine M-88-3D with TVC capability is under development.
Salient Features Of SU-35
• Supermaneuverable: Sukhoi aircrafts are notorious for their agility and maneuverability. With their AF-31F TVC nozzles, western fighters would have a hard time matching this Russian’s moves.
• SAP-518 jamming pod: Jam air defenses during ground attack missions imitating electronic signatures of various aircraft while generating false targets within enemy sensors.
• High Thrust-to-Weight ratio: the Saturn AL-31F engine has higher TWR than its European counterpart.
• Avionics: Russian birds are getting advanced avionics which are in par with western avionics. They excel their western rivals in many parameters and are getting extremely reliable.
RAFALE v/s SU-35
• In BVR: The Russian Irbis-E has a higher scan range than the Rafale’s RBE-2AA even though the former is PESA. It can track a fully loaded Rafale from distances more than 200km and Rafale won’t be even aware of it. The Rafale’s RCS reduction won’t be much of a use due to Sukhoi’s L-band antennas built into the wing’s leading edges and rudders which can pick up faint echoes of enemy aircraft’s radar signature.
The R-77 and METEOR missiles are nearly comparable in ranges but METEOR has a higher kinetic range and resistance to counter measures. However, R-77 has a lower radar signature than METEOR due to its grid fins and is lighter too. Add in the K-77 missile, under development, which could purportedly have range higher than 200km, intended for the Su-57 fighter. Su-35 is capable of firing the missile, and if inducted into active service could be the end of the line for other frontline western jets.
• Serviceability and Maintenance: This is the area where European standards triumph over Russian engineering. The average cost per hour of flight is 28000USD for Rafale and 36000USD for Su-35.
The availability of Rafale is above 65% while that of Su-35s are in the 50s. This is evident in the case of IAF’s Su-30MKis which are notorious for their poor availability.
Another key aspect is the lack of spare parts from its manufacturers causing entire squadrons useless. The Europeans however are very critical in providing maintenance and future supports.
• Medium-Close Range combat: The SU-35 is definitely more agile than the Rafale due to its TVC nozzles and sturdy airframe. Rafale’s medium range AA missiles include MBDA MICA and MAGIC-II, while that of Su-35 are AA-11 Archer and AA-8 Aphid. The western systems are more reliable due to their advanced avionics.
• Cost Factor: The SU-35 is extremely cheap as compared to Rafale. It costs only 75mnUSD, nearly half the price of Rafale at 135mnUSD
Hands down Su-35 fares better in Rafale or breaks even at certain key areas. Be it the BVR or Close combat scenario it is certain that with the right amount of skill set, a Su-35 pilot can successfully counter a Rafale attack.
It is mainly due to its advanced PESA radar and the ability to achieve high agility. The Rafale on the other hand was developed ,not having to counter Russian aircrafts in mind ,but as a formidable platform to showcase French engineering. The Su-35 was developed as a substitute for the stealth fighter Su-57 until its induction happens. to fill that role, they needed something that they can upgrade easily and not waste time on redesigning it from scratch.
So they chose their trusted Flanker family, Su-27 to be exact, and gave it immense upgrades which gave rise to this mean machine. That’s why the Russians have inducted only 50 or so Su-35s to their force. The Chinese are also not interested in buying more as their possible motive is reverse engineering the model to successfully copy the TVC technology and possibly induct it to its future projects.
There’s no question about both being not battle proven as they have already seen their fair share of combat over Syrian air space.
Even with all the positive technical specs, IAF is going with western tech is their reliability and high standards. Their technology are still better than others and provides efficient and easy operational use. The Russian tech on the other hand is on par but lacks in reliability. Lack of maintenance support and spare parts are the key factors that is pushing IAF to western tech.