Despite Kremlin propaganda to the contrary, mounting evidence suggests that the Russian-made Su-35 fighter jet fails to stack up against many other warplanes, even ones manufactured decades ago.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ministry of Defence have a long history of boasting about Russia's advanced materiel, but as the war in Ukraine has proven, Russian military technology and materiel are being vastly outperformed on the battlefield.
In Ukraine, where Russia has been conducting an illegal invasion since last February, a number of Su-35s have been shot down by Ukrainian forces to the embarrassment of Russian leaders.
Russia might have lost two squadrons of Su-35s in Ukraine, the RAND think-tank said in a report last October. Two squadrons could comprise up to 30 of the costly planes.
"Russia has failed to gain any measure of operational or tactical superiority over the battlefield from the air," RAND noted in the same article.
The British Defence Ministry in November predicted more hardships ahead "in the next few months" for the Russian air force.
"Russia's aircraft losses [in Ukraine] likely significantly outstrip their capacity to manufacture new airframes," the ministry said on Twitter.
"The time required for the training of competent pilots further reduces Russia's ability to regenerate combat air capability," it added.
Su-35 vs Rafale
The Su-35's problems were further highlighted in 2021 when Egypt began negotiations to purchase the fighter jet.
The limited avionics capabilities inside Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jets severely hinder their ability to carry out missions assigned to fourth generation aircraft, according to numerous reports and analysts.
"Then they ordered Su-35s, only to find out this is equipped with PESA radar, and they would have to wait for years (and pay even more) for the Russians to develop a suitable AESA radar," said aviation author Tom Cooper, according to a 2022 Forbes article, referring to passive electronically scanned array (PESA) and active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology.
The Su-35 is the only major fourth-generation aircraft without the option of an AESA radar, a more advanced and sophisticated successor to the original PESA technology.
AESA radars have longer range, higher ability to detect smaller targets and better resistance to jamming than do PESA radars.
That means that other fourth-generation aircraft equipped with AESA radars are likely to be able to detect and engage an Su-35 beyond visual range (BVR) before it can react.
"On top of this, they then ran a test, apparently using the first 2-3 Su-35s delivered to Egypt, against their Rafales, and it turned out the Su-35's PESA is simply no match," Cooper said, referring to a mock dogfight that Egypt organised in 2021.
In the Egyptian test, the Rafale's countermeasure system "easily overpowered" the Su-35's radar system, he said.
"There was simply no point in paying for what was clearly inferior to available Western 4.5-generation jets," said Cooper.
Other analysts have pointed to the Egypt encounter.
"The attacking Su-35's radar was reportedly rendered useless by defensive jamming from the Rafale's F3R's SPECTRA electronic warfare suite ... The Rafale proceeded to acquire and mock shoot down the Su-35," international security analyst Sébastien Roblin wrote for Business Insider last August.
Not stacking up
The superiority of AESA systems means that PESA-equipped Su-35s have little prospect of defeating a rival fighter jet.
For example, the US F-16 Fighting Falcon and its AN/APG-83 AESA have significant advantages over the Su-35.
The AN/APG-83 has a range of 370km, compared to the Irbis-E's 200km in normal volume search.
Even F-16s equipped with the older AN/APG-68 radar -- technology created decades ago -- have a detection range of 296km.
The Su-35's OLS-35 infrared search and track (IRST) fire control system "is the least capable IRST on any modern fighter", aviation analyst Abhirup Sengupta wrote in 2020, referring to other US-made and European fourth generation fighters.
A fighter jet can use IRST to detect targets' infrared signature, which is comprised of the heat generated from engines and the frictional heating between the air and the aircraft.
The OLS-35 uses a non-imaging infrared sensor that significantly limits the number of targets it can track, Sengupta noted, adding that the Eurofighter Typhoon's PIRATE IRST can reportedly track up to 500 targets.
Meanwhile, the Su-35's R-73 and R-74 missiles also lack imaging infrared seekers, which limits their capability to shoot without the need to point the nose of the aircraft toward the intended target, Sengupta wrote.
A BVR missile deployed on the Su-35, the R-77, also lacks the range and reliability of its Western rivals, Roblin wrote in his Business Insider article.
Good but not great
"The Su-35 is definitely the most capable fighter in [the] Russian Air Force ... But to say that it's on the same level as today's F-15E, F/A-18E/F, Typhoon or Rafale, much less 'superior' is defying reality," wrote Sengupta.
"It's marketed as 'world-beating' -- something it doesn't come close to," he said.
"Look beneath the propaganda and they really don't excel anywhere outside maybe air shows."
"The Su-35 takes the title of the most overhyped 4++ generation fighter aircraft," aviation analyst Dario Leone wrote in 2020 in an article detailing a host of various deficiencies that do not affect Western rival planes.
The various problems have led a number of countries around the world, including Egypt, Algeria and Indonesia, to cancel deals with Russia over the Su-35.
Apparently the only exception to this is Iran, which is set to receive up to two dozen Su-35s by March 21.
Observers say Iran's increasing international isolation, its expanding military alliance with Russia, and its propensity to fall for Kremlin propaganda are behind the reasons the country is moving forward with the deal.