How American F-16 Fighter Jets Stack Up to Su-35s Being Sent to Iran

Iran reportedly made a deal last winter to acquire a number of Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighter jets, which are frequently compared to American F-16 Fighting Falcons.

Over the weekend, rumors circulated that Tehran was expecting an imminent delivery of Su-35s based on a report from SNN, an Iranian state news agency with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iranian officials publicly disputed the report, and SNN later disowned its own story on Telegram.

However, Iran is expected to eventually receive the Russian fighters, given Iran’s Deputy Defense Minister Mehdi Farahi’s announcement in late November that his country had finalized a deal with Moscow for an unspecified amount of Su-35s and helicopters.

Before Iran is supplied with Su-35s, though, the world could soon see how Russian jets compare in battle against F-16s because Ukraine’s armed forces are scheduled to take to the sky with dozens of the American aircraft pledged by Kyiv’s allies. Meanwhile, Su-35s have been used in attacks throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began in February 2022.

While the two aircraft share some common capabilities, a number of features set them apart.

Su-35 and F-16 seen in flight
On the left, a Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jet perform during a military show in Moscow, Russia on August 25, 2020. On the right, an F-16 fighter aircraft flies over the U.S. Spangdahlem Air Base in…

Photos by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Harald Tittel/Picture Alliance Getty Images

Both the F-16 and the Sukhoi Su-35 are combat, multi-role fighters. While the F-16 can reach Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound, Russian sources say the Su-35 has a maximum speed of Mach 2.25.

Guy McCardle, the managing editor of Special Operations Forces Report (SOFREP), told Newsweek that the F-16 is “powered by a single jet engine,” whereas “the Su-35 has two jet engines, offering more thrust and redundancy if one stops working.”

“The American jet’s frame is lighter” than the Russian jet’s, according to McCardle, but the Su-35 “possesses greater firepower and survivability than the F-16.”

The differences don’t stop there, as McCardle outlined some unique advantages each jet possesses.

“The F-16 features a frameless bubble canopy for better visibility and a side-mounted control stick to ease control and maneuvering,” McCardle said. “The Flanker has thrust-vectoring engines to help with maneuvering, a robust radar system capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously, and advanced countermeasures against enemy radar.”

McCardle added that in terms of performance, “the F-16 can take off from shorter runways since it is lighter and more agile than the Flanker-E. The Su-35 is designed for longer missions and, therefore, has a greater range and payload capacity.”

In a March 2023 interview with Voice of America, retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Dan Hampton called Fighting Falcons “more durable,” adding, “I wouldn’t bet in combat on the Su-35 or any Russian-made aircraft.”

Hampton continued by saying Su-35s lack the advanced radar systems fitted into F-16s, resulting in the Russian aircraft being “easy to see, easy to pick up on radar, and easy to shoot at with a long-range missile.”

The retired officer also noted that the Su-35 has a larger wingspan of nearly feet and a length of 70 feet, compared to the F-16’s 33-foot wingspan and length of just under 50 feet. This “very large” frame contributes to what Hampton calls “not really that good of a plane.”