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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - The first demonstration fight of the Su-35 on July 7, 2008 attracted much attention to this aircraft, which has been undergoing tests since February. The latest addition to the large T-10 (Su-27) family is to become the interim fighter for the Russian Air Force before fifth-generation aircraft are launched into mass production.
The Su-35, more precisely the Su-35BM, is the second model of the T-10 family to carry that designation. The first Su-35 was manufactured 20 years ago, taking to the skies in 1988 under the designation Su-27M.
In 1991, it was decided to launch the Su-27M into mass production under the designation Su-35. The first serial aircraft took off in April 1992, though this model was never produced in large numbers. Due to the lack of funding between 1992 and 1995, only 12 Su-35's were delivered to the Air Force. These aircraft have been used for tests and demonstration flights.
Soon the Su-37 was developed on the basis of the Su-35. Often confused with the experimental C.37/Su-47 aircraft, the Su-37 was equipped with thrust-vectoring engines, which was the main difference between this model and the Su-35. The No. 711 Su-37 prototype impressed specialists greatly by its outstanding maneuverability, but remained one-of-a-kind.
In the late 1990's the Su-35 was given a new lease of life, as the issue of rejuvenating the Russian Air Force was raised again. To avoid excessive growth of designation numbers, the new aircraft was given the designation Su-35BM ("Big Modernization").
In 2008, the 117C engine was developed, enabling the designers to start the flight tests of the new aircraft, scheduled to be finished by 2010. The state armament program for 2006-2015, adopted in 2006, envisages mass production of the Su-35BM for the Russian Air Force, and the Defense Ministry is expected to purchase 182 of these aircraft. In addition, technology developed within the Su-35 project will be used to upgrade the Su-27s to the Su-27CM2 standard.
The creation of the Su-35 is an important step for the Air Force and the aircraft industry. Taking into account that a fifth generation fighter would not be in mass production in Russia before 2015, the Su-35BM will help to close the gap, replacing the older Su-27s, which will be decommissioned starting from the next decade.
The technical characteristics of the Su-35 are high enough to fulfill this task, outmatching all the modern American, French and EU generation 4+ fighter designs, including the Super Hornet, Rafale and Typhoon. The Su-35 is even able to withstand the world's only fifth-generation fighter now in production, the F-22, though it is much cheaper than the American fighter - its cost is around $40 million dollars compared with $300 million for F-22.
Regarding the Defense Ministry's plans, the question emerges whether the Russian industry would be capable of launching production in the required numbers within the scheduled period. The answer is more likely to be positive: the industrial capacities are beyond doubt, as the production of numerous modifications of Su-27s and Su-30s for export is on the rise. What the program requires is uninterrupted state funding.
With the Su-35 launched into mass production in 2011, the 182 aircraft ordered by the Defense Ministry would be delivered by 2020. By that time the Russian Air Force would have between 120 and 140 upgraded Su-27s and 30-40 fifth-generation fighters, enabling the Air Force to maintain its combat potential in the next 2-3 decades.
There have been many successful designs in the history of aviation, but only a few could match rising combat requirements for a number of years, like the famous Messerschmitt Bf-109 and P-51 Mustang fighters, the Tu-95 and B-52 strategic bombers, and the Su-27. The T-10 prototype made its maiden flight in 1977, and another flight in 1981 after major improvements.
The fighter went into mass production as late as 1984, and it still has the combat potential sufficient to remain one of the world's best aircraft. The Su-35BM, taking to the skies in 2008, showed even higher performance, an unprecedented improvement on a design developed 30 years ago.
It's not easy to forecast what lies ahead for the Su-35, but no doubt it will live through a few decades of service with gradual renewal of armament and avionics, until the moment when this fighter, along with more sophisticated aircraft, will be replaced by aerial vehicles based on new physical principles.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.