Russia’s Su-35S Fighter a Big Failure in Ground Attack Missions in Syria
The Sukhoi Su-35S supermaneuverable multirole fighter in service with the Russian Air Force is optimized for air-to-air combat but is quite useless as a ground attack aircraft as proven by its combat experience in Syria.
Russian state-controlled media reports the air force as being "more or less satisfied with the Su-35S" and its performance in Syria.
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The "less" in this case is the result of the failure of the fighter's PESA (Passive Electronically Scanned Array) radar to accurately and consistently locate and guide bombs onto their targets.
"Since the aircraft was employed for ground strike missions -- more with smart weapons and dumb bombs -- there can be some modifications for software and systems responsible for ground attack," said Vassily Kashin Ph.D., a senior research fellow at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University-Higher School of Economics.
Kashin also said "there were just some small problems (with the Su-35S), which emerged during the intense combat use during the war."
The obvious solution to the problems generated by PESA is to upgrade the Su-35S' radar system to the newer and more sophisticated active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
The Russian Air Force, however, has no immediate plans to upgrade the Su-35S with major new systems like an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
"There will be no AESA," said Kashin.
He said the Su-35S already has "a very powerful PESA radar and it is considered to be the strong point."
He noted that what the Su-35S and the Russian Air Force for ground attack missions are targeting pods similar to the Lockheed Martin Sniper or Northrop Grumman LITENING pods, but Russia apparently has no interest in developing advanced versions of these devices.
The Su-30SM and the Su-35 have to rely on their PESA radars for targeting air-to-surface targets because they lack targeting pods.
"The lack of pods is considered to be a major weakness of the Russian Air Force," said Kashin.
"There is a targeting pod development program which started even before Syria, but no results yet."