Russia received its first Sukhoi SU-35S fighters

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The Russian Air Force also has a squadron specialized in reproducing combat conditions. This squadron received its first Sukhoi SU-35S which will actively participate in the combat preparation of other units. This article was published on January 12, 2023 in the magazine n° 2812.

Three new Su-35S fighter jets

On September 9, 2022, three new Su-35S fighter jets handed over to the Russian Air Force took off from the airfield of the Sukhoi factory in Komsomolsksur-Amur, in the Russian Far East. The next day, after three stopovers, they reached Astrakhan, 6ƒ200ƒkm away. Privolzhsky airfield near Astrakhan is a base of the 185th Aerospace Forces Combat Training and Application Center (VKS). This is the only such formation in Russia, tasked with reproducing combat conditions and thereby providing realistic training in combat tactics for the benefit of air defense fighters of other units. The center’s air component is the 116th Fighter Aviation Combat Application Training Center with MiG-29SMT fighters, sometimes referred to as the Russian “aggression squadron”.

In Astrakhan, also a surface-to-air missile training center

In addition to the fighters, the 185th center is responsible for the 67th firing range at Ashulouk (Tambovka), 130ƒkm north of Astrakhan, as well as other units at Ashulouk:ƒ the 42nd surface-to-air missile training center , radar and radio units, launch sites and air target control stations, etc. Two other training areas, Mukhor-Konduy and Telemba, both located near Chita (4ƒ600ƒkm from Astrakhan) are also subordinate to the 185th Centre. The Astrakhan base operates two squadrons of MiG-29SMT fighters. There are no reports of the participation of aircraft and crews from the Astrakhan site in the war with Ukraine, but it is not excluded. Previously, they were deployed to Syria in the fall of 2017.

The three Su-35S fighters that arrived on September 10 are the first aircraft of this type in this unit. United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) has officially announced that the delivery of three Su-35S aircraft to the Ministry of Defense “completes the implementation of the third contract” for these fighters, and before the end of this year “the factory will also deliver the first Su-35S jets to the Ministry of Defense under the upcoming fourth contract”. Recall that the first order for Su-35S was placed by the Russian Ministry of Defense in August 2009, ordering 48 fighters, and was followed by the second contract for 50 fighters in December 2015.

First Su-35S squadron inducted in 2014

On February 12, 2014, the first squadron of twelve Su-35S fighters was ceremonially inducted into its first operational unit, the 23rd Fighter Aviation Regiment (IAP) at Dzyomgi near Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The last fighters of these contracts were delivered in November 2020. It is not known when the third order was placed but it was most likely to be in 2020. Anyway, it concerns only six aircraft. The first three, bearing the red numbers “58”, “59” and “60”, were handed over to the Lipetsk crew training center in December 2021, and the second three, bearing the blue numbers “01”, “02 » and « 03 », have just arrived in Astrakhan.

UAC received the fourth order of Su-35S from the Ministry of Defense in August 2020. It was for twenty fighters whose delivery was scheduled for 2022-2024. Thus, within the framework of these four orders, the factory of Komsomolsk- sur-l’Amour will deliver a total of 124 Su-35S fighters to the Russian VKS. The Russian VKS currently use Su-35S fighters in two regiments of the Eastern Military District (22nd Fighter Aviation Regiment – IAP – in Tsentralnaya Uglovaya and 23rd IAP in Dzyomgi) and two regiments in the Western Military District (159th IAP in Besovets and 790th IAP in Khotilovo). Some devices are in the Akhtubinsk military test center, the Lipetsk aircrew training center and now the Astrakhan assault squadron. The Su-35s were also handed over to the Russkiye Vityazi (Russian Knights) aerobatic team at Kubinka, near Moscow. The first four fighters arrived in Kubinka on November 12, 2019, followed by the other four in June 2020. But in the meantime, the Su-35 has been the subject of other news.

64 Sukhoi SU-35 for Iran

In September 2022 an intrigue emerged in the form of the next major Su-35 fighter contract for Iran. On September 4, the Iranian news agency Borna published an interview with Brigadier General Hamid Vahedi, the commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF), stating that the purchase of Su-35 fighters to Russia was the order of the day. On January 19 and 20, 2022, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi paid a visit to Moscow. O cial commentary on the conduct of the talks is vague, virtually non-existent as far as military cooperation is concerned.

However, it was on this occasion that the two countries reportedly agreed to supply Iran with Russian military equipment worth $10 billion. These include Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. Officially, the UN embargo on the supply of military equipment to Iran was lifted on October 19, 2020. Iran is the fourth foreign customer to order the Su-35, but as only one of three contracts previous ones has been completed, this is in fact the second. The first foreign order for 24 Su-35 aircraft was placed by China in November 2015. The first four arrived in China in December 2016, followed by ten more in 2017 and 2018. Externally, the Su-35 export fighter differs from the Russian version Su-35S only by minor changes at the level of the antennas.

As the Su-35 was initially launched in 2003 as a commercial project, its only designations are Su-35 for the export version and Su-35S for the version subsequently ordered by the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). The designation of the Su-35SE for the export version of the fighter, sometimes found in publications, is wrong. In February 2018, Indonesia placed a preliminary order for eleven Su-35 fighters, but subsequently failed to sign a binding contract for fear of the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), literally Fighting America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

And Egypt?

The third foreign customer is Egypt which ordered, in March 2018, no less than 30 fighters for delivery in 2020-2022. All Egyptian Su-35s were produced in 2020-2021 and should already be delivered, but in reality they are still at the factory. A satellite image from June 2022 shows twenty Su-35 fighters at the factory airfield in Komsomolsk on Amur, whose paintwork leaves no doubt as to their final destination. Five aircraft from the Egyptian command (numbers 9210 to 9214) arrived in July 2020 at the Zhukovsky flight test center near Moscow. Reports suggest that Egypt abandoned the contract at the behest of the United States, which finances a large part of Egypt’s military purchases.

Speaking about the Iranian purchase of Su-35, General Vahedi used the future tense. “žWe hope to acquire the so-called fourth-generation Su-35 fighter jets in the future,” he said, adding that “žthe final decision (…) is at the disposal of the command and the General Staff of the Armed Forces”. However, in fact, the original Su-35 contract for Iran was discussed and approved much earlier. Brigadier General Vahedi provided no figures, but in subsequent Arabic media the number of 64 fighters ordered appeared. This figure corresponds to other data from Russia. On August 12, 2020, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Komsomolsksur-Amur.

In one of the presentations shown to him, there was the plant’s production schedule for the coming years, and in it information about two Su-35 export contracts, without naming the clients. The first order was for 30 fighters and it is probably the order placed -žand not retainedž- by Egypt. Under the second order, the factory is expected to produce 34 aircraft in 2022-2024. This was probably the initial contract for Iran, planned pending the lifting of sanctions. The sixty-four fighters that Iran must now receive correspond to the previous contract of 34 aircraft, to which are now added 30 aircraft originally intended for Egypt. Such an agreement would solve the Russians’ problem of what to do with the abandoned Egyptian planes.

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