The Su-35 Fighter Nightmare for Russia in Ukraine Is Very Dangerous

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Summary: The Su-35, Russia’s advanced “fourth-generation++” fighter, has suffered significant losses in the Ukraine War, with seven reported downings, including incidents of friendly fire.

-Despite its sophisticated design, the Su-35 has been vulnerable to modern Western-supplied air defense systems like the Patriot missiles and NASAMS deployed by Ukraine.

-These systems have effectively neutralized the Su-35’s advantages, highlighting the impact of high-tech weaponry in conflicts against larger, conventionally superior forces. This situation mirrors potential scenarios for other smaller nations, such as Taiwan, suggesting a strategic emphasis on bolstering air defense capabilities could be crucial in deterring aggression from more powerful adversaries.

How Ukraine’s Advanced Air Defenses Are Downing Russia’s Elite Su-35 Fighters

If reports are to believed coming from Ukraine (that’s a big “if,” considering how the Ukraine War is shrouded in lies on all sides), then seven of Russia’s top, “fourth-generation ++” warplanes, the Su-35 (NATO codename “Flanker-E”) have been downed since the start of the Ukraine War. Thus far, three of those seven were downed this year. In fact, one of those Su-35s shot down over Ukraine may have been done by friendly fire. 

The Su-35 is a supped-up variant of the Su-27. As previously mentioned, the “Flanker-E” is a modified fourth-generation warplane, similar to the United States Air Force’s F-15 EX Eagle II warplane.


What that means is that many fifth-generation warplane systems and capabilities were fused with older warplane variants of the fourth-generation. It helps to cut down on cost and to make mass production easier for the country developing these birds. 

Yet, in terms of capabilities, they are still more advanced than conventional fourth-generation warbirds. 

Many have wondered, though, if the prized Su-35s are so great, how are they being taken down by Ukraine, a nation that has a subpar air force and is basically waging an unconventional war upon the hulking Russian military that invaded their country in February 2022? 

What’s Killing the Russian Su-35 Over Ukraine

The answer, of course, can be found in the generous arms shipments that the United States and its NATO partners have lavished upon the Ukrainians since the start of the war. Specifically, the Patriot Missile batteriesas well as the NASAMS (which stands for the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System).

A Su-35 is a highly capable warplane that should not be underestimated. But these birds are clearly susceptible to American air-defense systems. 

According to David Axe, at least some of the Su-35s that were downed by Ukraine were clipped either by the Patriot or NASAMS. Apparently, the Ukrainians have been deploying some of these systems close to the frontline and using them against incoming Russian planes. These birds have difficulty defending against the attacks. 


Further, in one instance, the Russian Su-35 warplanes had a powerful Russian A-50 radar detection plane flying with them that was shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses. This harmed the situational awareness of the Russian pilots and contributed to them being capped by the Ukrainian forces. 

Ukraine is Going to Lose the War but They’ve Won Some Important Battles

This underscores the way that the Ukrainians have fought. 

While there is no way that Ukraine is going to win this war in the long-term. The fact remains that the Ukrainians have innovated several key concepts that will be analyzed and perfected by smaller powers when forced to fight larger, modern forces, such as Taiwan in their possible conflict with China. 

Taiwan, like Ukraine, relies upon US arms to protect them. As it turns out, American air defense systems are highly effective against Russian platforms, like the Su-35. 


So, it’d behoove the Americans to surge production on systems, like the Patriot and NASAMS, and flood Taiwan with these capabilities so as to allow for Taiwanese defenders to shoot down the Chinese warplanes that will eventually be deployed against their island-nation. Chinese warplanes that are either Russian-built birds or are clones of Russian warbirds. 

About the Author

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, the Asia Times, and The-Pipeline. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. His next book, A Disaster of Our Own Making: How the West Lost Ukraine, is due October 22 from Encounter Books. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

All images are Creative Commons. 



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