Key point: Russia's Flanker jets have always been among the best, and the Su-35S is just the latest model.
While the Su-35 grabs the headlines as Russia’s most advanced fighter, the majority of its air force consists of older types. Per the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) “The Military Balance 2018,” Russia operates around 220 “legacy” Flankers to seventy Su-35S, nearly triple the number. The “legacy” Flankers consist of a mix of original Su-27s, various SM upgrades of this type and twin-seat Su-30s. But how effective are these older Flankers? Are some versions near the capability of the Su-35S?
The first type that Russia operates is listed by IISS as fifty airframes of “Su-27 Flanker.” Presumably, this is referring to the basic Su-27S that entered service in 1985. Also listed are ten airframes of the Su-27UB, which is simply a dual-seat version of this aircraft. This basic variant of the Flanker lacks serious capability relative to modern fighters at range as it has only an ancient radar.
The Su-27S is only capable of launching semi-active radar homing missiles, specifically the R-27, that require the fighter to point its nose at the target during the entire duration in which the missile is in flight. The R-27ER does bring a lot of range and some midpoint guidance functionality to the Su-27S, but it is still last gen technology that can’t take advantage of modern air-to-air combat tactics that utilize active-radar homing missiles.
It remains a potent force in closer-range dogfights with the natural maneuverability of the Su- airframe paired with the helmet mounted sight and the R-73 missile. However, while this off-boresight IR missile locking functionality was fairly revolutionary when it came out, newer American craft with AIM-9X and Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) have matched and surpassed this capability, being capable of locking up and shooting at greater angles than the basic Su-27S.