SU-35 Flanker vs F-15 Eagle

Another comparative analysis article from The National Interest: America’s F-15 Eagle vs Russia’s Su-35 fighter: Who Wins?

This article lacks the depth of the nicely done article in the Armata Tank vs the M-1 Abrams Tank and the TOW missile. A few points:

  1. F-15C Eagle is now nearly 40 years old.
  2. It may be in service for another 20 years.
  3. The Flanker-E clearly has the advantage at low speeds.
  4. The F-15C and F-15E have the advantage at long ranges.
  5. I gather the author considers them overall roughly equal.

But the lines that catch my attention are:

“More likely to happen is that a F-15 would run into a Su-35 operated by some Third World despot. The pilots are not likely to have the training, tactics or experience to fight against an American aviator with a realistic chance of winning.”

I am not sure which “Third World despots” he is considering for his analysis. Indonesia is a democracy. Indonesia is not on bad terms with the U.S. I gather only Russia has the SU-35 with China and Indonesia having ordered them. Indonesia is using them to replace their aging fleet of U.S. F-5E Tiger IIs. The initial buy is something like 8 planes. Perhaps Algeria, Egypt, India, Pakistan, or Vietnam may purchase them at some point, but these are also not countries we are likely to conflict with. It does not appear that places like North Korea, Venezuela, and what remains of the government of Syria is going to obtain them (although Russia deployed at least 4 Su-35s in Syria). I think the author of the article probably needs to re-examine who is actually going to have and use these aircraft. So far, it seems to be only Russia, China (24 of them) and Indonesia (8 of them).

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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One comment

  1. I enjoy reading articles by Mr. Majumdar. I appreciate their detailed analysis about weapons systems, and the article referenced on the F-15 vs the S-35. However, that line thrown in, almost as an afterthought it seems, about the Su-35 likely being operated by a “Third World despot” does indeed need to be unpacked. What better way to do this than the use of data?

    First, some terminology. “Third World” was a moniker coined in the Cold War to indicate those countries that were unallied to either the US and Allies (the “First World”), or the Soviets and Allies (the “Second World”). This included Mexico, Brazil, and most of South America, India, most of South and South-East Asia and large sections of Africa. A strong argument can be made that China post Mao-Stalin fued and prior to Nixon was included in this group.

    Today, the successor term is “Developing World”, and using the term “Thid World” makes me question whether the world view of Mr. Majumdar has been sufficiently updated to match the current technology that he obviously studies and knows well. I suggest watching some of the work by Dr. Hans Rosling, who’s “current work focuses on dispelling common myths about the so-called developing world, which (he points out) is no longer worlds away from the West. In fact, most of the Third World is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.” (https://www.ted.com/speakers/hans_rosling). Let’s use the World Bank’s list of economies. (https://datahelpdesk.worldbank.org/knowledgebase/articles/906519-world-bank-country-and-lending-groups). They classify the income of economies (aka countries or nations) as follows:

    Red:
    * RUSSIA High
    * CHINA Upper-middle
    * VENEZUELA High
    * UZBEKISTAN Lower-middle
    * KAZAKHSTAN Upper-middle
    * ALGERIA Upper-middle

    Grey:
    * INDONESIA Lower-middle
    * VIETNAM Lower-middle
    * MALAYSIA Upper-middle
    * UKRAINE Lower-middle
    * ETHIOPIA Low-income
    * ERITREA Low-income
    * UGANDA Low-income
    * ANGOLA Upper-middle

    Blue:
    * USA High
    * JAPAN High
    * SAUDI ARABIA High
    * ISRAEL High
    * SOUTH KOREA High
    * SINGAPORE High

    Also, as Dr. Lawrence pointed out, “despot” is not very precise. Presumably, this means “authoritarian” or “dictatorial”, something that describes many operators of the Su-27 family of aircraft, including Russia and China, and to some other operators, for example Vietnam. Other operators of this family include India, Indonesia and Malaysia, which are democracies. Indeed, it is not clear that Indonesia and Vietnam would be “red” forces, meaning that they would be opposed to the United States and Allies in a future conflict, thanks largely to China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea. These nations are certainly not Third World, but are they despots?

    The point of Mr. Majumdar was the difference in pilot training between USAF F-15’s and “Third World despots”. The historical gap in training between USAF and Soviet Air Force pilots has been documented. Is this really still true? Annual exercises by the USAF, such as Red Flag, and other competitive programs such as the US Navy’s Top Gun certainly capture some popular attention, but what about the training programs of adversaries? During sequestration, there was some concern that China’s forces had more training than the USAF. (http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/366872/us-air-force-pilots-fly-less-chinas-do-michael-auslin). A USAF study from 2006, comparing a RAND training model to Air Combat Command’s Ready Aircrew Program (RAP), is an interesting read. (http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a450990.pdf)

    The article focuses on only USAF F-15 fleet ” … that would mean the United States would be fighting a war against Russia or some other great power—like China. That’s not likely to happen.” It may be that armed conflict between Russia or China and the United States is not likely (let’s hope so), but recent activity in the Baltic, and in the South China Sea, supported by the pivot to the Pacific, offers fertile ground for Air Combat Command planners. Already the USAF operates F-15C aircraft at Kadena airbase in Okinawa, part of the 18th wing. Also, the Philipines has recently offerd the use of airbases to the USAF, which could see F-15C aircraft located even closer to the South China Sea.

    Also, the F-15 is a widely exported fighter, used by armed forces other than the USAF, see below. In addition, the F-15 assembly line is still active, currently producing enhanced versions of the F-15 for customers like Saudia Arabia and Singapore, but recently for South Korea as well. While the design of the F-15 may date from the 1970’s, these fighters are newly built with a long service life ahead.

    Who operates the Su-27 family of aircraft, of which the Su-35 is a part? The assumption would be that a current operator of an Su-27 family of aircraft has overcome any political or operational objections to using Russian military hardware, and would be interested in extending their capabilties with the Su-35.

    According to Flight Global’s World Air Forces 2016 (https://www.flightglobal.com/asset/6297/waf) …

    Red:
    * Russian Air Force – Su-27/30/35 – 321 active + 50 ordered.
    * Russian Navy – Su-27/30/33/35 – 28 active + 43 ordered.
    * People’s Liberation Army Air Force – J-11/Su-27/30/35 – 272 active + 24 ordered.
    * People’s Liberation Army Naval Force – J-15/Su-30/33 – 27 active + 50 ordered.
    * Algerian Air Force – Su-30 – 44 active + 14 ordered.
    * Uzbekistan Air Force – Su-27 – 30 active + 0 ordered.
    * Venezuelan Air Force – Su-30 – 23 active + 0 ordered.
    * Kazakhstan Air Force – Su-27 – 17 active + 32 ordered.

    Gray:
    * Indian Air Force – Su-30MKI – 200 active + 53 ordered.
    * Vietnamese Air Force – Su-27/30 – 37 active + 10 ordered.
    * Royal Malaysian Air Force – Su-30MKM – 18 active.
    * Ukraine Air Force – Su-27 – 18 active.
    * Indonesian Air Force – Su-27/30 – 16 active. <– Interest in acquiring Su-35.
    * Ethiopian Air Force – Su-27 – 14 active.
    * Uganda People's Defence Forces – Su-30 – 8 active + 4 ordered.
    * Eritrean Air Force – Su-27 – 2 active.
    * Angolan People's Air Force – Su-27/30 – 1 active + 12 ordered.

    Blue:
    * United States Air Force – F-15C/E – 417 active. <– enhancements
    * Japan Air Self-Defence Force – F-15J – 154 active. <– enhancements underway.
    * Royal Saudi Air Force – F-15C/S/SA – 129 active + 84 ordered.
    * Israel Air And Space Force – F-15A/C/I – 67 active.
    * Republic Of Korea Air Force – F-15K – 59 active.
    * Republic Of Singapore Air Force – F-15SG – 32 active + 8 ordered.

    Based upon geography, the aircraft fleet numbers, and the political inclination of the nations that operate them, perhaps the most likey matchup would be between Japan and China in the East China Sea. The idea that USAF F-15s might go up against non-Russian or non-Chinese Su-35s is remote, and certainly not a priority concern for Air Combat Command planning.

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