For more than three decades Sukhoi’s Su-27 Flanker has been Russia’s primary fighter and a symbol of the nation’s prowess for building highly capable fighters and securing export contracts from around the world. Piotr Butowski presents the missile-totting Flanker

Su-35C 02 Red, one of the first batch of 12 delivered to the Russian Air Force in February 2014 and now operational at Dzyomgi Air Base. Artyom Anikeev/AirTeamImages

In December 1969, the US Air Force selected the McDonnell Douglas F-15 design for its future air superiority fighter. In the same year, the USSR launched the Perspektivnyi Frontovoy Istrebityel (PFI or future tactical fighter) with the following requirements: a max speed of Mach 2.0-Mach 2.2 (2,500–2,700km/h); Mach 1.14-Mach 1.22 (1,400– 1,500km/h) at sea level; a climb rate of 300–350m/sec (985–1,150ft/sec); a range of 2,500km (1,350nm) or 1,000km (540nm) at sea level, without auxiliary tanks. Taking part in the competition were Sukhoi with the Su-27, Mikoyan with MiG-29 and Yakovlev with the Yak-45 and Yak-47. Before a decision was made, the designers at Mikoyan felt their MiG-29 was losing to the Su-27 and proposed development of two new fighters like the United States: the heavy Su-27 (to match the F-15) and the lightweight MiG-29 (to match the F-16) and scaled down the MiG-29 design, which was originally a heavy fighter. The proposal was accepted in 1971 and both fighters, MiG-29 and Su-27, were ordered.

The first Su-27, which had the design bureau T-10 designation, featured a wing with an ogival leading edge and a deformed shape to achieve a maximum lift-to-drag ratio: the amount of lift generated by a wing, divided by the aerodynamic drag created by the wing when moving through the air. Models of the T-10 used in wind tunnel tests showed a lift-to-drag ration of 12.6 at Mach 0.85.

1 Su-27UB trainer 74 assigned to the 831st Tactical Aviation Brigade of the Ukrainian Air Force.
Piotr Butowski

The original T-10 design stipulated a bicycle (tandem) landing gear configuration to achieve an aerodynamically clean aircraft: a requirement to which all other aspects of the design had to be subordinate. As a result of the stringent design approach, aerodynamically the T-10’s design was being spoiled, but the manufacture process was becoming simpler.

Double curves in its planform were replaced by a sequence of single curves and the troublesome bicycle landing gear was replaced by a conventional tricycle configuration.

The first prototype T10-1, built by the design bureau’s workshops at 23a Polikarpov Street in Moscow, was first flown by Sukhoi’s chief test pilot Vladimir Ilyushin at Zhukovsky airfield on May 20, 1977.

Details of the Su-27’s existence were first published by the US Department of Defense in March 1979.

Once the new T-10 was spotted at a Soviet research and test facility, the US Department of Defense assigned the T-10 the preliminary name Ram-K, Ram being the designator for Ramenskoye in Moscow. Subsequently, the Air Standards Coordinating Committee (comprising representatives from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) gave the T-10 the NATO reporting name Flanker-A.

In November 1983, the US Department of Defense published the first photograph of the T-10 prototype, a very poor quality image captured by satellite. Better T-10 images appeared in a documentary film about Pavel Sukhoi, first screened by Soviet TV on July 21, 1985, featuring a ten-second take of T10-1’s first flight. Shortly after its first TV appearance, prototype T10-1 was retired to the Soviet Air Force Museum at Monino near Moscow.

Radical Redesign

In January 1976, management of the Su- 27 programme was assumed by Mikhail Simonov, the future designer general of the Sukhoi design bureau. Simonov had not previously dealt with the Su-27 and was convinced the type required a major redesign.

Design characteristics of the T-10 were not attained, because the equipment designed for the new fighter was much heavier than anticipated and the engines consumed more fuel than required.

Even before the first flight of T10-1, design of an entirely modified T-10S version was developed. The first objective was to reduce the aerodynamic drag coefficient and for this purpose the designers reduced the wing camber. Drag decreased, but so did lift at high angles of attack, thus leading edge flaps had to be introduced, so the leading edge had to be straightened, which on the T-10 was S-shaped. Conventional ailerons and flaps on the trailing edge were replaced by flaperons.

Another improvement was reducing the area of the mid-ship section by 20%, which involved a redesign of the main landing gear, relocating the engine gearboxes to the top of the engines and many local aerodynamic changes. Moving the gearboxes required the tailfins to be relocated; on the T-10, the tail fins stood on the engine nacelles.

2 The first T-10 prototype T10-1 was first flown on May 20, 1977, by Sukhoi’s chief test pilot Vladimir Ilyushin.

Eventually, the tailfins on the T-10S were repositioned lower, on the outrigger on each side, which in turn reduced the effective fin area so ventral fins were added to compensate.

After redesigning the landing gear, a new solution for airbrakes had to be found. Previously, the landing gear doors served as airbrakes; in the T-10S, the airbrake was mounted atop the fuselage, similar to the F-15 Eagle.

Nine T-10 prototypes were built before the first modified aircraft made by Sukhoi in Moscow, dubbed the T10S-1, flew for the first time on April 20, 1981 with Vladimir Ilyushin at the controls. The aircraft crashed on September 3.

The Yuri Gagarin Production Plant at Komsomolsk-on-Amur had been participating in the work on the T-10 programme from the start, and was ready to launch production of the aircraft quickly.

The first production Su-27 configured as a T-10S (NATO reporting name Flanker-B) flew at Komsomolsk on June 2, 1982.

On March 7, 1985 the first two-seat Su- 27UB Flanker-C (UB for Uchebno-Boyevoy or combat trainer) built at Komsomolsk flew for the first time.

After five Su-27UBs were built at Komsomolsk, production of the combat trainer version was relocated to the plant at Irkutsk, which had just finished production of the MiG-27 Flogger fighter-bomber. The first Su-27UB built at Irkutsk flew on September 10, 1986. In contrast to other two-seat combat aircraft, a good example is the MiG- 29, the Su-27UB retained its full fire-control system. With no change to the dimensions of the Su-27, the two-seat tandem cockpit was fitted at the cost of a fuel tank. To compensate for its higher forward fuselage, the tailfins were heightened and the dorsal airbrake enlarged. These changes made the Su-27UB heavier with lower performance than the single-seat Su-27.

Everything New

Designers responsible for the Su-27’s design made two important decisions on the aircraft’s shape. First was the use of a blended-body aerodynamic configuration (known in Russia as an integral configuration), with the aircraft having a continuous, smooth wing-fuselage junction. This configuration offers two distinct advantages: a high lift-todrag ratio and capacity to house plenty of fuel and equipment.

Second was use of a configuration with longitudinal static instability, bringing the advantage of higher agility. However, this objective was not fully achieved, because the equipment installed in the forward fuselage, mainly the radar, proved to be heavier than anticipated, so the Su-27 has a longitudinal stability rating close too neutral. Since a statically unstable aircraft cannot be controlled by a mechanical fiight control system, a fly-by-wire fight control system was developed for the Su-27. Fly-by-wire was only employed in the longitudinal channel where the benefit is greatest. The Su-27 was the first aircraft produced in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with a fly-by-wire control system.

Airframe characteristics were not the only new features in the Su-27; there were also engines, the fire-control system and weapons.

In 1975, the design team at engine manufacturer Arkhip Lyulka (now Saturn) began development of the AL-31F turbofan engine. Specification for the AL-31F required a thrust of 122.58kN (27,558lb) with afterburner, an 8:1 thrust-to-weight ratio and a rate of fuel consumption in cruise of 0.60lb/h-lbf (pounds of fuel per hour-pound of thrust) or 61g/h-N (grams of fuel per hour- Newton of thrust).

Specifications for thrust and weight were attained, but the minimum fuel consumption increased by more than 10% to 0.67lb/hlbf (or 0.78 at maximum dry, or 1.96 with afterburner). Developing a new engine usually takes more time than the development of a new aircraft and the first T-10 prototypes were fitted with AL-21F3 engines, power plant of the Su-17 and Su-24. The AL-31F engine underwent state evaluation as late as 1985, along with the T-10S aircraft.

3 Lyulka-Saturn’s AL-31F turbofan engine is the powerplant of all Su-27 and Su-30 versions.
Piotr Butowski
4 The conventional Cassegrain-antenna N001 radar is fitted to standard Su-27, Su- 33 and Komsomolsk-made Su-30 fighters.
5 T10-17 was the first production Su-27 in T-10S configuration that first flew at Komsomolsk on June 2, 1982.
1 Su-27 RF-92407 from the 790th IAP based at Khotilovo Air Base during an intercept by an RAF Typhoon over the Baltic Sea in 2014.
Ministry of Defence

A team led by Viktor Grishin at the Tikhomirov NIIP institute at Zhukovsky developed a new radar with vertical plane electronic scanning and horizontal plane mechanical scanning. Previously, NIIP had developed and produced the first electronically scanned radar, named the Zaslon, for the MiG-31. However, development of the new radar for the Su-27 failed, because it was too heavy for a fighter. In 1982, the electronic scanning capability was abandoned and the new N001 radar, unified with the N019 radar developed at the time by the rival Phazotron-NIIR institute based in Moscow, was ordered for the Su-27. The N001 radar uses the same Cassegrain antenna as the N019, but has a larger diameter and a more powerful transmitter. Many other components in both radars are the same.

The Su-27 has: an S-27 (izdeliye Sh101) fire-control system operated by two Ts100 computers, including the RLPK-27 (Radiolokatsyonnyi Pritselnyi Kompleks) N001 Myech radar system coupled with an OEPS- 27 electro-optical sight system; an SEI-31-10 Nartsiss-M data indication system; a Parol IFF interrogator; and the SUO-27 weapons management system.

The RLPK-27 is a coherent pulse-Doppler look-down, shoot-down radar with a search range of 85–100km (45-54nm) for a fighter-size target with a 3m2 radar cross-section head-on, and 30-40km (16-21nm) tail-on. The radar system can track while scanning up to 10 targets simultaneously engaging two of them.

The OEPS-27 (Optiko-Elektronnaya Pritselnaya Sistema, izdeliye 31Ye) electrooptical sighting system comprises an OLS-27 (Optiko-Lokatsyonnaya Stantsya, izdeliye 36Sh) infrared search and track (IRST) system coupled with a laser rangefinder (with a tracking range of 50km (27nm) tail-on and 15km (8nm) head-on) and the Shchel-3U helmet-mounted target designator. The SEI- 31-10 Nartsiss data indication system (with its own Orbita-20 computer) includes an ILS- 31 (Indikator na Lobovom Stekle) head-up display and IPV (Indikator Priamogo Videniya) tactical display.

2 The R-27R semi-active radar-guided long-range air-to-air missile is one type of a family developed especially for the Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters.
Piotr Butowski

Integration of the Su-27’s radar, IRST system and a helmet-mounted cueing system was the most innovative and tactically beneficial feature of the fire-control system. For example, if a target tracked by the IRST enters cloud, it can be further tracked by the radar.

A considerable part of the Su-27’s in close-air combat capability is due to the Shchel-3U helmet-mounted sight, the first Soviet helmet-mounted target designator, designed and manufactured by Arsenal in Kiev, Ukraine. The sight uses a cross hair for aiming, a function aided by automatic tracking of the pilot’s head movement, and displays the aiming information in the pilot’s visor and a display in the cockpit. In addition, the seeker of an R-73 missile tracks the pilot’s head movement, so launch can be achieved whatever the position of the aircraft and without the need for the pilot to pursue and maintain alignment with the target.

The Su-27 is equipped with a PNK-10-02 fight navigation system comprising of a suite of subsystems: the SAU-10-01 autopilot and 911-01 navigation subsystem with two RV-21 altimeters; ARK-22 radio direction finder; MRP-76 beacon receiver; Kvitok-1 LORAN; TACAN; and SO-72 transponder.

Two datalinks are also fitted: a TKS-2-27 (Tipovyi Kompleks Svyazi) secure datalink, which enables group operations involving up to 16 Su-27s; and the Spektr-1, which receives target information from land-based radars.


The Soviets developed two new air-to-air missiles dedicated to the Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters: the medium to long-range R-27 and the short-range R-73.

R-27 Medium to Long Range Air-to-Air Missile

A Vympel R-27 missile was first launched in 1979 from a MiG-23ML Flogger-G and remains as Russia’s primary medium-range air-to-air missile. Since 1983, Artem’s factory in Kiev, Ukraine has undertaken series production of all R-27 versions; there is no production in Russia.

The R-27 (AA-10 Alamo) is modular in construction comprising a common midbody section with control fins, autopilot, power supply, warhead and fuse, and two replaceable rear sections with motors and wings, and a variety of different forward seekers.

Butterfly fins (wider at the tip than the root) are a novelty of the missile’s aerodynamic configuration and provide reduced drag and enhanced manoeuvrability during the terminal phase of fight. The first two versions (officially accepted in 1987, although in production since 1983) were the semi-active radar-guided R-27R (R for Radiynaya or radio) and the passive infrared-guided R-27T (T for Teplovaya or heat). A third variant, the passive radarguided R-27P (P for Passivnaya or passive) has also been integrated on the Su-27.

3 The R-27T differs from the R-27R with the passive infrared Geophisica 36T seeker in that it has no mid-course path correction and tracks only after the target is locked on by the seeker.
Piotr Butowski
4 Short-range R-73s and long-range R-27s on a Su-27 at the Lipetsk evaluation centre.
Piotr Butowski
5 Thanks to a combination of gas and aerodynamic controls, the R-73 is one of the world’s best short-range air-to-air missiles. The laser fuse of the R-73L is recognisable by rectangular windows positioned aft of the front fins.
Piotr Butowski

The R-27E (E for Energeticheskaya or energy) missile variant (officially accepted in 1990) has a more powerful dual-pulse engine (a standard R-27 has a single-pulse engine) with an increase in range and average speed of the missile. Three extended range R-27E sub-variants are the semi-active radar-guided R-27ER, infrared-guided R-27ET and passive radar-guided R-27EP.

The maximum ballistic range of an R-27R is 60km (32nm) and the extended range R-27ER 95km (51nm). However, these ranges are not achieved in real combat. Much depends on the altitude: the lower the altitude, the shorter the range of the missile. Another factor is speed of the Su-27 and the target: the higher the approach speed, the longer the firing distance on a head-on course and the shorter the distance in a tail-chase. For example, the R-27ER missile, with a maximum range of 95km (51nm), can in reality hit a target from up to 60km (32nm) in a head-on course or 30km (16nm) in a tail-chase at an altitude of 33,000ft (10,000m) and with the Su-27 and target flying at a speed of 485kts (900km/h); at an altitude of 16,000ft (4,877m) these ranges are 40km (21nm) and 18km (10nm) respectively, and at an altitude of 3,000ft (915m) 26km (14nm) and 10km (5nm) respectively. Moreover, the limitations of the missile’s seeker must be considered. For example, the R-27T and R-27ET variants have to lock on to the target before launch, which means the missile’s range cannot exceed the seeker range. Target manoeuvring and jamming decrease the true range of a missile even further.

1 Su-27SKM TS-2705 is one of three such aircraft unique to the Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara; all were delivered in 2010. Royal Australian
Air Force

R-73 Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile

The R-73 (AA-11 Archer) was designed to be the smallest possible missile fitted with an all-aspect infrared seeker. Initial design started at the Molniya (lightning) design team in Moscow during 1976. After Molniya was assigned the Buran space shuttle development in April 1982, 300 missile experts moved to Vympel to complete R-73 development. The R-73 entered production in 1982 and was officially commissioned on November 5, 1983. During Soviet time, the R-73 missile was manufactured at two plants, Duks in Moscow and TASA in Tbilisi, Georgia. Production continued at Duks after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Total R-73 production in the USSR is unknown; TASA says it produced 6,000 missiles a year until the early 1990s. After 1992, over 10,000 examples were produced for export, but there was virtually no production for the Russian Air Force.

The R-73 missile has a canard aerodynamic configuration with four cruciform triangular fins in the front and four trapezoidal wings installed around the engine.

The R-73’s excellent tactical characteristics have been achieved mainly by virtue of combined gas-aerodynamic control, enabling the missile to make a sharp turn towards the target at an angle-of-attack of up to 40° just after being launched. Two twin interceptors are arranged around the engine’s exhaust nozzle for pitch and course control during the active phase of flight assisted by aerodynamic controls. Four mechanically interconnected ailerons secure stabilisation to the longitudinal axis. Once the missile’s rocket motor fuel is exhausted, the missile is aerodynamically controlled only.


Two versions of the R-73 are in use: the original R-73K (R-73E export version) fitted with a Krechet (merlin) radar proximity fuse; and the later R-73L (R-73LE export version) with a Yantar (amber) laser fuse; rectangular windows for the laser fuse positioned just behind the front fins make the R-73L easily recognisable.

The R-73 uses inertial mid-course guidance with a terminal infrared Mayak-80 seeker designed and manufactured by Kiev-based Arsenal. The seeker is capable of tracing targets in any direction, not just from the rear like a thermal seeker, thanks to high sensitivity of a nitrogen-cooled, indium antimonite-based photo element. The R-73 can be launched from any position under any g-load caused by manoeuvring of the Su-27 with no limitation.

In Service

The first operational Soviet Air Force unit to receive the Su-27 Flanker was the 60th IAP (Istrebitelnyi Aviatsionnyi Polk, Fighter Aviation Regiment) based at Dzyomgi Air Base near Komsomolsk-on-Amur, where the production plant is located. The objective was to facilitate maintenance of the new aircraft during its initial period of service. The 60th IAP started Su-27 flight operations on June 22, 1985, followed in the autumn by the 941st IAP based at Kilp Yavr Air Base on the Kola Peninsula. When the Su-27 entered Soviet Air Force service in 1985, America’s F-15 Eagle was already 11 years into its US Air Force career. Today, Dzyomgi is home to the 23rd IAP equipped with Su-35S fighters.


Length: 2.90m (9ft 6in)

Wingspan: 510mm (20.1in)

Fin span: 385mm (15.2in)

Body diameter: 170mm (6.7in)

Launch weight: 105kg (231lb)

Warhead weight: 7.4kg (16lb)

Max range head-on: 30km (16nm)

Max range tail-on: 14km (7.5nm)

Max seeker range: 10–12km (5–6nm)

Min launch distance head-on: 650m (2,133ft)

Min launch distance tail-on: 300m (984ft)

Target altitude: 20–22,000m (66–72,000ft)

Max target G-load: 12g

2 Upgraded Russian Air Force Su-27SM(3) fighters assigned to the Lipetsk evaluation centre.
Piotr Butowski
3 30mm rounds being loaded in to the Su-27’s Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 cannon fitted in the starboard leading-edge root extension.
Piotr Butowski
4 Central to the Su-27’s cockpit is the ILS-31 head-up display; on the right is the IPV tactical situation display, with the navigation device required for international flights above.
Piotr Butowski
5 A Su-27 with its airbrake deployed atop the fuselage.
Piotr Butowski

IAP based at Kilp Yavr Air Base on the Kola Peninsula. When the Su-27 entered Soviet Air Force service in 1985, America’s F-15 Eagle was already 11 years into its US Air Force career. Today, Dzyomgi is home to the 23rd IAP equipped with Su-35S fighters.

According to official information from Sukhoi, 645 single-seat Su-27 fighters were manufactured by 1999. After then, five aircraft were manufactured for Indonesia and 12 Su-27SM(3)s for Russia. The Irkutsk plant built over 200 two-seat Su-27UBs and Su-27UBKs.

Other former Soviet Su-27 operators comprise Armenia (second-hand aircraft acquired in Russia in 2005), Kazakhstan (14 aircraft were received between 1999 and 2001 in exchange for Tu-95MS Bear strategic bombers handed over to Russia), Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Belarus retired its Su-27s in December 2012.

1 Upgraded Belarussian Air Force Su-27UBM1 side number 63. This aircraft crashed during a demonstration at Radom Air Base, Poland, in August 2009.
Piotr Butowski


Wingspan: 14.7m (48ft 3in)

Wingspan: with two wingtip R-73 missiles 14.95m (49ft 0.5in)

Length (without probe): 21.93m (72ft)

Height: 5.93m (19ft 6in)

Height: 6.35m (20ft 10in)

Wing area: 62m2 (667.8ft2)

Tail plane span: 9.88m (32ft 5in)

Wheelbase: 5.88m (19ft 4in)

Wheel track: 4.34m (14ft 3in)

Empty operating weight: 16,380kg (36,112lb)

Take-off weight with nominal fuel; two R-27 and two R-73 missiles: 23,430kg (51,654lb)

Max take-off: 28,300kg (62,391lb)

Max permitted take-off weight: 30,450kg (67,130lb)

Max permitted take-off weight with upgraded landing gear: 33,000kg (72,752lb)

Max landing weight: 21,000kg (46,297lb)

Max permitted landing weight: 23,000kg (50,706lb)

Max Mach number clean: 2.35

Max speed: Mach 1.96 (2,400km/h)

Max speed at sea level, clean: Mach 1.14 (1,400km/h)

Ceiling (clean): 60,000ft (18,500m)

G limit: +9g

Take-off distance: 450–700m (1,476–2,297ft)

Landing distance: 620–700m (2,034–2,297ft)

Max range with two R-27s and two R-73s (low altitude): 1,340km (725nm)

Max range with two R-27s and two R-73s (high altitude): 3,530km (1,905nm)

Max range at high altitude (clean): 3,720km (2,000nm)

Operational radius at high altitude: 1,090km (589nm)

Operational radius at low altitude: 420km (227nm)

Engines: Two Lyulka-Saturn AL-31F turbofans, each rated at 75.2kN (16,909lb) dry and 122.6kN (27,558lb) with afterburner

Internal fuel: Up to 9,400kg (20,723lb)

2 Sukhoi development Su-27SKM, side number 305, drops two 500kg (1,100lb) KAB- 500Kr TV-guided bombs.

China purchased 46 Su-27s (36 singleseat Su-27SKs and 10 two-seat Su-27UBKs) delivered in two batches in 1992 and 1996, the first nation outside the former Soviet Union to buy the type. China acquired an additional 28 Su- 27UBKs between 2000 and 2002.

On December 6, 1996, Moscow and Beijing reached an agreement for China to start licensed production of 200 Su-27s in Shenyang under the J-11 designation.

The first two license-built aircraft assembled from parts delivered from Komsomolsk-on-Amur flew in December 1998. Despite the original agreement for 200-aircraft, production ended after 105 Su- 27s had been built. Instead China introduced the indigenous J-11B derivative.

Vietnam received five Su-27SKs and one Su-27UBK between March and May 1995, followed by six more (including four trainers) during 1997 and 1998. Indonesia received two Su-27SKs in 2003, followed by three upgraded Su-27SKMs in 2010. Indonesia is the only operator of the Su-27SKM version. Several countries have acquired Su-27s from stocks of former Soviet operators, including Angola (one Su-27 and one Su-27UB), Eritrea (one Su-27 and one Su-27UB) and Ethiopia (14 Su-27s and at least eight Su-27UBs).

Mid-life Upgrades

The importance of the Su-27 to the Russian Air Force is illustrated by the fact that even in times of financial defence cuts between 1990 and 2000 all Su-27s remained in service, while lots of similar generation fighters, MiG-29s and MiG-31s, were withdrawn and preserved. Moreover, in the 1990s, the Russian Air Force started a thorough upgrade of its Su-27 fleet.

Irkut, working with Russkaya Avionika (Russian Avionics), proposed the singleseat Su-27KN based on the prototype Su-30KN, side number 302, first flown in April 1999, and two-seat Su-27UBM based on prototype Su-27UBM, side number 20, developed in early 2001.

Irkut’s proposal was a relatively simple upgrade featuring an improved radar and new air-to-surface weapons, similar to the MiG-29SM upgrade by Russkaya Avionika a few years earlier.

The improved radar featured a computer that enable ground mapping and tracking moving targets without intervening with existing software and hardware. New airto- surface weapons included TV-guided Kh-29T missiles, Kh-59M TV-guided extended-range missiles, Kh-31A anti-ship and Kh-31P anti-radar missiles and KAB- 500Kr bombs.

Other than an MFI-55 colour liquid-crystal display replacing the original IPV TV display, the cockpit remained unchanged.

Prototype Su-30KN successfully completed state trials on November 9, 2001, and the company was preparing serial upgrades, but after a change in leadership of the Russian Air Force in 2002 to one less well-disposed to Russkaya Avionika, the Su-27KN/Su-27UBM proposal was rejected. Instead, the upgrade packages were introduced outside Russia. Belarussia’s 558th ARZ repair plant at Baranovichi upgraded four Su-27UBM1s for the Belarussian Air Force between 2001 and 2005, and four Kazakhstan Air Force Su-27UBM2s between 2008 and 2010. Kazakhstan’s Su-27UBM2s also had Israeli Litening III pods integrated for designating laser-guided weapons, and Belarussian Satellit electronic countermeasure pods for self-defence.


Max speed: Mach 1.73 (2,125km/h)

Max speed (sea level): Mach 1.06 (1,300km/h)

Approach speed: 124kts (230km/h)

G limit: +8.5g

Ceiling: 57,400ft (17,500m)

Max range (clean): 3,000km (1,620nm)

Max range (clean s.l): 1,200km (648nm)


On February 7, 1987, a pair of Su-27s were encountered by a Western aircraft, two Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s over the Barents Sea, for the first time. On September 13, 1987, a mid-air collision occurred between a Soviet Air Force Su-27 and a Royal Norwegian Air Force P-3 Orion patrol aircraft.

The P-3 was intercepted at 10.39hrs by the Su-27, flown by Vasily Tsimbal assigned to the 941st IAP, over international waters, 90km (48nm) from the coast of the USSR during a patrol in an area where Soviet warships were on exercise. To block out the Orion’s reconnaissance equipment the Soviet Su-27 flew beneath its belly. The propeller of the Orion’s outer starboard engine hit the Su-27’s fin. Fortunately, both aircraft returned to their bases. The Norwegian committee investigating the collision blamed the Su-27 pilot concluding the accident resulted from his errors. The Soviet claim that the Orion pilot made dangerous manoeuvres was rejected. The Orion’s repair cost was estimated at $130,000.


Three photos of the Su-27 taken by the Royal Norwegian Air Force P-3 Orion on September 13, 1987.

1 Russian Air Force Su-27SM RF-92211 was upgraded in 2002- 2003 and now serves at Lipetsk with the evaluation and crew conversion centre.
Piotr Butowski

Back in Russia, the air force selected the Su-27SM offered by the Sukhoi design bureau featuring systems previously developed for two-seat multirole Su-30MK2s produced for the Chinese order, and thus most of the research and development work was financed by China.

The Su-30MK2 configuration features the SUV-VEP fire control system, the baseline standard that was developed to SUV-P-R standard for the Su-27SM and features the RLPK-27P Myech-M radar system coupled with the OEPS-27MK electro-optical targeting system, SILS-27M data display system and IFF interrogator. A separate computing channel with the BTsVM-900 computer enables terrain mapping with synthetic aperture, detection of surface targets with the ability to feed target information to Kh-31A anti-ship missiles. It also enables use of RVVAE active radar-guided air-to-air missiles. The OEPS-27MK targeting system includes a more powerful OLS-27M IRST sensor and a Sura helmet-mounted system. The SILS-27M data display system comprises an ILS-31 head-up display, two MFI-10-6M 152 x 203mm (6 x 8in) multifunction displays and a single MFPI-6 data input panel. Additionally, the Su-27SM has a separate SUV-P1 channel to enable use of laser-guided and TV-guided munitions. The L-150-27.2 Pastel radar warning receiver had been fitted instead of the old Beryoza, enabling target indication for Kh-31P missiles. The Su-27SM also incorporates a new S-107 communication suite and an A737 GPS receiver.

The upgraded fire-control system supports guided air-to-ground weapons, including: up to four Kh-31A anti-ship or Kh-31P anti-radar missiles; up to four Kh-29L/T/TD laser-guided and TV-guided missiles; two S-25LD laserguided rockets; four KAB-500Kr; and one KAB-1500Kr guided bomb. Air-to-air weapon options include the RVV-AE medium-range missile.

Modernised Su-27SM prototype, side number 56, made its maiden flight on December 27, 2002, at Komsomolsk-on- Amur, with Yevgeniy Frolov at the controls, followed in 2003 by export demonstrator side number 305. The first five upgraded Su-27SMs were handed over to the evaluation centre at Lipetsk in December 2003. The initial operational unit, the 23rd IAP based at Dzyomgi Air Base, received its first Su-27SMs on December 23, 2004. By 2009, the regiments based at Dzyomgi and Tsentralnaya Uglovaya both had 24 Su-27SMs assigned. Su-27SMs based at Tsentralnaya Uglovaya were also fitted with Series 42 AL-31F engines each rated at 80.9kN (18,188lb) and 132.4kN (29,762lb) with full afterburner. When the units based at Dzyomgi and Tsentralnaya Uglovaya received the Su-35S, the Su-27SMs were transferred to Belbek (in the Crimea) and Besovets Air Bases. Three Su-27SKMs were sold to Indonesia in 2010, the only operator of this version.


Russkiye Vityazi (Russian Knights), the Su-27-equipped Russian Air Force aerobatic team is popular in Russia and abroad. Based at Kubinka Air Base as part of the 237th Air Technology Demonstration Centre, the team made its first international tour with a series of displays in the UK during September 1991, which began at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, home of the Red Arrows. No other aerobatic team fly aircraft as large and powerful as the Su-27. In addition to its performance and manoeuvrability, the Su-27’s fighter pedigree affords carriage of flares that provide an additional attraction when launched during a display. Aircraft assigned to the Russkiye Vityazi are painted in Russia’s national colours: noses are white with a red and blue arrow painted on the upper surface; the lower surface is blue. Tail fins feature large Russian Air Force flags, the nose carries the logo of the Sukhoi design bureau and the legend Russkiye Vityazi. In October and November 2016, the Russkiye Vityazi received eight new Su-30SM fighters (side number 30 through 37). The first performance by the Russkiye Vityazi using the Su-30SM is planned for the LIMA airshow in Malaysia in March 2017

The NIIP N011M Bars electronically scanned array radar features three rows of small T-shaped antennas in the centre for the IFF.
Piotr Butowski


Nobody has ever seen a Su-27 with external fuel tanks. Use of a blended-body aerodynamic configuration for the Su-27 resulted in plenty of space inside the fuselage providing the required combat ranges with the internal fuel tanks only partly full and not to maximum capacity. A Su-27 requires 5,270kg (11,618lb) of fuel to meet its combat range requirement yet the airframe has space capacity for 9,400kg (20,723lb). An impressive capability statistic perhaps? Not so. According to strength norms the design team had to guarantee an operational 8g capability with the fuel tanks 80% full, so the airframe’s strength was adapted for a lighter load of fuel. Airframe strengthening would be required to enable the aircraft to carry 9,400kg thereby increasing the airframe weight. Eventually an agreement was reached between the design team and the Soviet Air Force to limit fuel capacity to 5,270kg (11,618lb) and the remaining 4,130kg (9,400 minus 5,270) if required can be carried in an internal auxiliary tank: a tank never seen.

As a consequence of the agreement, the design team was able to keep the Su-27 light compared to its size. Typically, a Su-27 carries fuel in three tanks, two in the wing centre section and one in the tail boom. A tank in each of the outer wings remain empty

2 Aircraft T10S-3 (P-42) was stripped of most of its equipment and paint to reduce weight for its record-breaking flights.
Piotr Butowski

Production of the Su-27 for the Russian Air Force resumed in August 2009 when 12 new Su-27SM(3)s were manufactured using subassemblies made in expectation of an order from China that were never delivered. The first were delivered to Krymsk Air Base in February 2011; some are also at Lipetsk. Upgrades of operational Su-27s to Su-27SM(3) standard are underway, with the first two examples delivered to Krymsk in May 2014; the next aircraft will go to Besovets. Compared to the Su-27SM, the Su-27SM(3) has the SUV-P-RM fire-control system; the L-265M10 Khibiny-M electronic countermeasures suite; and introduces new R-77-1 medium-range air-to-air missiles.


The most commercially successful member of the Flanker family is the two-seat multirole Su-30MK and it’s little wonder. From the outset, the Su-30MK was made for the export market and only ordered by the Russian Air Force after many years. Because the two-seat Su-27UB Flanker-C, manufactured at Irkutsk, retained the entire fire-control system of the single-seat Su-27, the decision was taken to use the configuration as the baseline design for a long-range interceptor, capable of commanding other aircraft. As part of the conversion, the aft cockpit had a tactical situation display installed for use by a weapon systems officer and an air refuelling probe fitted to enable air refuelling and thereby extend endurance. Initially the new configuration was designated as the Su- 27PU and later the Su-30.

In 1987, test pilots Nikolay Sadovnikov, Igor Votintsev and Viktor Pugachev made several long-distance flights with Su-30 prototype aircraft. The longest, on June 23, 1987, from Moscow to Komsomolskon- Amur and back, was flown in 15 hours and 31 minutes. The aircraft flew 13,404km (7,237nm) with four trips to the tanker for air refuelling. After several prototypes were built, at least six Su-30s were manufactured between 1994 and 1996; five aircraft (side numbers 50 through 54) were allocated to an evaluation squadron based at Savasleyka.

3 Aircraft T10-20R was prepared for a range of record flights with fuel tanks fitted in the nose and tail beam, and ogive ends attached to the wings. The record-breaking flights were eventually abandoned.
Piotr Butowski


On October and November 15, 1986, Viktor Pugachev flying the third Su-27 T10S-3 prototype aircraft dubbed P-42 established absolute world records for time to climb to 9,800ft (3,000m) in 25.373 seconds, 2.2 seconds less than former record held by the American F-15 Eagle; to 19,685ft (6,000m) in 37.05 seconds; to 29,525ft (9,000m) in 47.028 seconds; and to 39,370ft (12,000m) in 58.102 seconds. Nikolay Sadovnikov set another series of records in between March and June 1987 climbing to 9,000m in 44.176 seconds, 2.8 second less than Pugachev; Sadovnikov also held a record altitude of 63,435- 63,740ft (19,335-19,429m) for the statutory 90 seconds. In total, 41 world records were set by P-42. To reduce weight for the record setting flights aircraft P-42 was stripped of some equipment, the entire armament system and braking parachute. Nose flaps were locked and paint removed from the airframe surface. Fuel reserve was reduced to the absolute minimum and the engines were uprated to 128.4kN (28,865lb). Another T10-20R had its radar removed to free up space for a fuel tank. Additional fuel was held in a tank housed in an enlarged sting between the engines. Ogival ends were attached to the wings. The objective was to use T10-20R to set a speed record over a closed distance of 500km (270nm). However, sometime later, the interest with records weakened and eventually, the T10-20R was abandoned.

1 Su-30 502 is a Sukhoi test aircraft based at Komsomolsk used for the development of versions of the Su-30MK.
Piotr Butowski


Nozzles fitted to AL-31FP engines installed in the Su-30MKI move by 15° up and down. So how is three-dimensional thrust vectoring achieved with engine nozzles that only move in one plane? Nozzle movement planes in both engines need to be deflected sideways. On the Su-30MKI the vertical central plane of each nozzle is deflected by 32° (the righthand nozzle to the right and the left-hand nozzle to the left) so the nozzles move within a V-like volume intersecting the planes to give three-dimensional control. Symmetrical deflection of both nozzles allows pitch control by diverse deflection, roll and yaw control

The Irkutsk plant had considerable experience in working with Indian authorities and companies for the licence production of MiG-27ML fighter-bombers at HAL Nasik between 1986 and 1994. Alexey Fyodorov, the manager of the Irkutsk plant at the time, had good working relationships with his counterparts in India. Therefore, in the early 1990s when India began to consider purchase of a two-seat multirole fighter, the Su-30 produced at Irkutsk was the basis for talks with Russia.

2 As of January 2017, the Indian Air Force had received 233 Su-30MKI fighters, including 50 delivered in flyaway condition from Irkutsk in Russia.
Piotr Butowski

With India in mind, the Russians displayed the Su-30MK (Mnogofunktsionalnyi, Kommercheskiy or multifunction, commercial) demonstrator loaded with dummy Kh-29, Kh- 31 and Kh-59M air-to-surface missiles and KAB-500 guided bombs at the 1993 Paris air show held at Le Bourget that June.

In July 1995, the Indian parliament approved the purchase of a batch of Su- 30MKs. Sixteen months later, India signed a contract for the development and delivery of 40 Su-30MKIs (the first batch) at Irkutsk Russia on November 30, 1996. Sukhoi designated the custom-built Su-30MKI using the letter I to denote India. Good news for the Russians, but not without its challenges: India’s Su-30MKI is an advanced aircraft featuring a new fire control system, avionics sourced from international suppliers and thrust-vectoring engines which were non-existent at the time even in prototype form.

3 Twelve Su-27M fighters, side numbers 701 to 712, were built between 1988 and 1994, and assigned to trials. Aircraft 709 was displayed at air shows with the Su-35 export designation.
Piotr Butowski

A clause within the November 1996 contract stipulated the first eight aircraft would be delivered in an interim Su-30K configuration, one that differs little from the Su-30 interceptor variant but without air-to-ground capability, and later upgraded to the full Su-30MKI configuration. The eight aircraft were delivered during April and May 1997 with a plan to deliver the remaining 32 between 1998 and 2000, but the Su- 30MKI programme suffered from delays, so India ordered an additional 10 Su-30Ks on December 18, 1998.

All 18 Indian Su-30Ks, serial numbers SB001 through SB018, were assigned to No.24 Squadron ‘Hunting Hawks’ at Air Force Station Lohegaon near Pune to replace the venerable MiG-21bis.

The story of India’s Su-30Ks neared completion in April 2007 when India signed a contract with Russia to exchange all 18 Su-30Ks for new Su-30MKIs on a one-forone basis. In July 2011, India’s Su-30Ks were transferred to the 558th ARZ repair facility at Baranovichi in Belarussia to await a new customer. In October 2013, Angola ordered 12 of the former Indian aircraft; the first of which flew after its overhaul at Baranovichi in January 2017.

4 One of 18 Su-30MKMs delivered to Malaysia in 2007–2009 feature French and Russian-made systems instead of Israeli ones as used in Indian Su-30MKIs.
Piotr Butowski

The story of the Su-30MKI is incomplete without going back to the days of the USSR. On December 29, 1983 the Soviet Government took a resolution to launch work on the Su-27M (T-10M, M for Modernizirovannyi) featuring all of the technology and systems later introduced on the Su-30MKI.


In May 1989, the Su-27 was displayed up close for an international audience for the first time when single-seat Su-27 388 and two-seat Su-27UB 389 arrived at the Paris air show. Sukhoi design bureau test pilot Viktor Pugachev demonstrated an aerobatic manoeuvre dubbed the cobra for the first time, more technically referred to as dynamic deceleration (though the first pilot to execute the cobra manoeuvre on the Su-27 was Igor Volk on September 29, 1987). The cobra manoeuvre starts in high-speed level flight when the pilot rapidly increases the angleof- attack to 120° practically lying on its back and flies tail-first forward for a few seconds, before lowering the nose and returning to level flight without losing altitude. The manoeuvre was named the cobra because of a loose similarity between the aircraft’s motion and the movement of a cobra snake’s head when stood-up while feeling threatened.

To execute the manoeuvre, the pilot must accelerate to 205 to 228 knots (380-420km/h) between 1,650 and 3,300ft (500 and 1,000m) altitude and rapidly pull on the stick. Having reached the maximum angle-of-attack the pilot must rapidly return the control stick to neutral position and accelerate while carefully preventing the aircraft from entering a negative angleof- attack flight regime. The flight control system limiter must be inactive during a flight routine involving the cobra manoeuvre

5 The front cockpit of a Su-30MKK with two 150 x 200mm (6 x 8 inch) MFI-10-5 multifunction displays, an ILS-31 head-up display and a set of conventional standby instruments.
Piotr Butowski


Wingspan: 14.7m (48ft 2in)

Length (without probe): 21.93m (71ft 11in)

Height: 6.4m (20ft 11in)

Nominal take-off weight: 26,090kg (57,519lb)

Max take-off weight: 34,000kg (74,957lb)

Max permissible take-off weight: 38,800kg (85,539lb)

Max speed: Mach 1.9

Max speed (sea level): Mach 1.1 (1,350km/h)

G limit: 9g

Service ceiling (clean): 56,758ft (17,300m)

Max range: 3,000km (1,620nm)

Max range (at sea level, with maximum fuel and two R-27s and two R-73s): 1,270km (685nm)

Take-off run (normal take-off weight): 550m (1,804ft)

Landing run: 750m (2,461ft)

Engines: Two AL-31FP thrust-vectoring turbofans each rated at 122.6kN (27,562lb) thrust with max afterburner

Under the supervision of Tamerlan Bekirbayev, the N011 radar featuring a slotted aerial was developed for the Su-27M by the NIIP institute. Later the N011M version featuring electronic scanning was developed and tested on Su-27 side number 712.

Improvements in the new N011M included the ability to simultaneously guide between four and six missiles (the Su-27’s N001 radar was limited to two missile), and detect and engage ground targets. The N011’s forwardlooking search capability was complemented by the aft-looking search capability of the N012 radar installed in the sting between the engines. The N012 operates in the decimetre band so has a warning capability only: missiles cannot be guided.

6 The Su-30MKI and its derivatives, like this Su-30MKM, are the most successful Russian fighter types of the post-Soviet period. By February 2017, Irkut had delivered 390 aircraft from an order book for 475.
Piotr Butowski


The development of the carrier-borne Su-27K saw the Soviets adding small fore planes (canards) to the airframe to help reduce the angle-of-attack during carrier approaches. In May 1985, Viktor Pugachev made the maiden flight of experimental aircraft T10-24 fitted with canards (the aircraft crashed on January 20, 1987).

Once the new, heavier N011 and then the N011M radar was installed on the Su- 27M the aircraft’s centre of gravity moved forward, which degraded agility: a condition compensated for by either redesigning the airframe or by adding a small lift surface on the front of the fuselage. The latter, simpler solution was chosen. Fore planes were added to the forward fuselage to shift the centre of pressure forward and restore the aircraft’s static instability (on the Su-27 it was neutral, on the Su-27M it was negative 5 to 6%).

Tests showed canards also have other benefits. Two powerful vortexes generated by their tips blow out a thick boundary layer on the wing near the flaperons. This improves lateral stability at high angles of attack, prevents the loss of lift during violent manoeuvring, and eliminates vibrations induced in this area of the flight envelope, which disturbs pilot control and weapon aiming. Canards also act as vibration dampers during low-altitude flight when powerful turbulence is normal.

Because of the benefits, canards were installed on several versions of the Flanker including the Su-27M, Su-27K (Su-33), Su- 27IB (Su-34 Fullback) and the Su-30MKI. The Su-30MKI’s all-moving swept canards are deflected symmetrically only from +7° to -70° at their leading edge.

7 Aircraft T10-24, the first Flanker with canards made its maiden flight in May 1985.
Piotr Butowski collection
1 Once all contracts are fulfilled, Russia will have ten Su-30SM squadrons making it the most numerous fighter in the Russian Air Force fleet.
Piotr Butowski

Great importance was given to the Su-27M programme, which attests to the fact that as many as 12 aircraft were assigned to trials involving aircraft T10M-1 through T10M-12, side numbers 701 through 712; the first, side number 701, flew for the first time on June 28, 1988; while aircraft 712 was built in 1994. During its international debut at the Farnborough air show in September 1992, Su-27M side number 703 was presented as the Su-35 export version. Possibly the most familiar aircraft, side number 711, was fitted with thrust-vectoring engines in 1996 and was displayed at various air shows starting with Farnborough in September 1996.

During its flight demonstration, aircraft 711 undertook a new aerobatic manoeuvre known as the summersault (the kulbit in Russian) – a roll over the back performed with almost no forward movement. Aircraft 711 crashed on December 19, 2002 due to flight control system failure; the pilot ejected successfully.

Another, aircraft 708, until recently was used for elements of the flight testing of the flight control system of the T-50 PAK FA: aircraft 710 continues to support the PAK FA flight test programme as a test bed for the PAK FA’s engine.

As a result of the economic crisis in Russia during the 1990s, Su-27M production did not gather pace. After 12 prototype aircraft were built, in 1995 the plant at Komsomolsk made three production aircraft, side numbers 86, 87 and 88. In 2003, all three production Su-27Ms and prototypes 703 and 712 were handed to the Russkiye Vityazi aerobatic team at Kubinka and painted in the team’s livery. The team never used the aircraft for a display routine.

No further Su-27Ms were built, but many elements of its design were subsequently used in the development of the Indian Su-30MKI. Vyacheslav Averyanov flew demonstrator Su-30MK-1 fitted with canard fore planes and thrust-vector engines for the first time but not new avionics. The aircraft later crashed at Le Bourget on June 12, 1999.

International Equipment

The edge of the Su-30MKI’s combat potential lies with its avionics, especially the RLSU-30MKI (Radiolokatsionnaya Sistema Upravlenia or radar control system) Bars radar system, based around the PESA (passive electronically scanned array) N011M radar made by the NIIP institute at Zhukovsky, and controlled by RC1 and RC2 computers manufactured by the Hyderabad Division of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The first experimental N011M was made in 1991; flight tests began in 1996 with Su-27M side number 712. Electronic scanning allows the radar beam to be moved to other points in space in milliseconds thus enabling true multi-target engagement. The main shortcoming of the PESA are small angles of observation – only 45° to each side – which is poor for a manoeuvrable fighter. Hence the Bars electronically scanned array is installed on a hydraulic drive, rotating to the left and the right by 25°.

Due to its electronic scan mode, the array’s mechanical sweep can be less dynamic than a typical mechanically scanned array radar. Typically, the array functions in the electronic scanning mode, and the mechanical sweep is only performed when a tactical situation requires it. The array weighs 110kg (243lb).

Other fire control sensors integrated on the Su-30MKI include the Russian OLS-30 (35Sh-01) infrared search-and-track system; the Ukrainian-built Sura-K helmet-mounted sight; Israeli Elop SU967 head-up display and Rafael Litening targeting and navigation pod.

The self-protection suite comprises an Indian-made IFF 1410A; Tranquil (Tarang Mk2) radar warning receiver; Israeli Elta EL/L- 8222 podded jammer and seven 14-round 50mm (1.9in) UV-30MKI chaff and flare dispensers housed in the tail sting.

2 Since September 2015, four Su-30SM fighters are deployed to Syria to provide air cover to the Russian Air Group.
Russian Ministry of Defence
3 Su-30M2s serve as combat trainers in units equipped with upgraded Su-27SMs. Russian Air Force Su-30M2 RF-96521, 10 Red is assigned to the 3rd Composite Aviation Regiment at Krymsk.
Piotr Butowski

The Su-30MKI has a strengthened airframe to increase the munitions payload to 8,000kg (17,637lb) with 12 hard points which can carry a variety of air-to-air missiles; up to eight semi-active radar-guided R-27R or R-27ERs and two IR-guided R-27T or R-27ETs; or up to ten active radar-guided RVV-AEs; or six R-73s. Russia’s Su-30SM is modified to carry the R-77-1.

Air-to-surface missile loads include two Kh-59M or Kh-59MEs (with an APK-9 targeting pod); up to six Kh-31A antishipping or Kh-31P anti-radar missiles; up to six Kh-29s (the laser-guided version requires a targeting pod) or up to three 1,500kg (3,307lb) or six 500kg (1,102lb) guided bombs; up to 32 250kg (551lb) free-fall bombs; or S-8, S-13 and S-25 rockets. Like all Flankers, the Su-30MKI is fitted with a 30mm GSh-301 cannon with 150 rounds.

4 Su-30MK2V 1168 of the Aviación Militar Bolivariana.
Ivan Nesbit/AirTeamImages


A four-year delay in delivering the Su-30MKI to India was caused by implementing a new aerodynamic configuration and thrustvectoring engines controlled by a new flight control system, and integrating a suite of avionics and systems supplied by a mix of overseas suppliers. The first fully-equipped Su-30MKI, side number 05, did not fly from Irkutsk before November 26, 2000. An An- 124 delivered the first two Su-30MKIs from Irkutsk to India on June 22, 2002; a ceremony to commission the first ten aircraft was held at Air Force Station Lohegaon on September 27, 2002.

India signed a series of subsequent contracts, the biggest on December 28, 2000, licensed the production of 140 Su-30MKIs and a suitable number of AL-31FP engines in India; total orders for the Indian Air Force amount to 272 Su-30MKIs. The most recent Indian contract, covering 40 more aircraft, was initiated at the beginning of 2016. By early 2017, the Indian Air Force had received 233 aircraft; 50 delivered in flyaway condition from Irkutsk and 183 assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at its Nasik facility.

Malaysia ordered 18 customised Su- 30MKMs which were delivered between 2007 and 2009. Malaysia took delivery of slightly modified Bars-M radar units and replaced Israeli subsystems with French equipment including the Thales Damocles targeting and navigation pod, a NAVFLIR (navigation forward-looking infrared) system to complement the Damocles pod, and the Thales CTH3022 HUD and IFF systems.

New on the Su-30MKM is the self-defence system comprising the Russian L-150-30 radar warning receiver and South African Saab Avitronics MAW-300 ultraviolet missile approach warning system and LWS-310 laser illumination warning system. Malaysian Su-30MKMs carry Russian SAP-518 selfprotection jammer pods and SAP-14 escort jammer pods instead of Israeli systems used on the Su-30MKI.

Algerian Su-30MKI(A)s retain the same configuration of systems as the Indian Su- 30MKI with the exception of the Russian L-150-20 Pastel radar warning receiver instead of the Indian-made Tarang Mk2 radar warning receiver and no podded jammer.

Between 2007 and 2012, 44 Su-30MKI(A) aircraft were delivered to the north African nation which ordered another 14 in April 2015; the first eight were delivered in December 2016.



After years of production for export customers, the Russian Ministry of Defence ordered its own version of the proven Su-30 with six contracts placed between March 2012 and April 2016 covering 116 Su-30SMs: 88 for the Russian Air Force and 28 for Russian Naval Aviation.

The first Su-30SM flew at Irkutsk on September 21, 2012 and was subsequently delivered to Akhtubinsk for trials. Domna Air Base near to the city of Chita near the Chinese border is home to the first Russian Air Force Su-30SM unit; the 120th SAP (Smeshannyi Aviatsionyi Polk or Composite Aviation Regiment), which received its first aircraft in November 2013. A second regiment, the 31st IAP based at Millerovo Air Base near the Ukrainian border, took delivery of its first Su-30SMs in October 2015.

Meanwhile Russian Naval Aviation’s 43rd ShAP (Shturmovoi Aviatsionnyi Polk or Attack Aviation Squadron) based at Saki in the Crimea started Su-30SM operations in December 2014. Today, a full squadron of Su-30SMs operate from the base. Follow-on deliveries to Russian Naval Aviation went to the 72nd Aviation Base at Chernyakhovsk Air Base (part of the Baltic Fleet) followed by the 279th OKIAP (Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment) at Severomorsk-3 Air Base (part of the Northern Fleet).

By January 2017, the Russian Ministry of Defence had reportedly received 81 Su- 30SMs. Once all 116 aircraft covered by the six existing contracts are delivered nine, or possibly ten, Russian Air Force and Russian Naval Aviation squadrons will operate Su- 30SMs making it the most numerous type in service with the Russian Ministry of Defence. A surprising reversal of situation; originally the Su-30 was made for export and for ten years was only produced for foreign customers.

In September 2015, four Su-30SMs from Domna deployed to Syria to provide fighter cover for the Russian Air Group flying with a typical air-to-air missile payload comprising four medium-to-long-range R-27Rs and two short-range R-73s.

Kazakhstan ordered 11 Su-30SMs in two contracts signed in 2014 and 2015. The first four were delivered to Taldy-Kurgan Air Base in April 2015 with a further two in December 2016.

1 Su-30MK test aircraft, side number 504, fires a supersonic Kh-31 air-tosurface missile.

Import Substitution

Configuration of the Russian Su-30SM is close to India’s Su-30MKI. The modified RLSU- 30MK-R Bars-R (N011M-R) radar retained Indian-made computers but has additional operating modes and the Russian-made IFF and L-150 Pastel radar warning receiver suite are installed. French equipment including the Sagem Sigma 95NAA inertial navigation system, and Thales SMD-55 and SMD-66 multifunction displays, CTH 3022 head-up display, and TLS 2020 and NC 12 tactical navigation receivers remained, as did the Sura-K helmet mounted sight designed and manufactured by Arsenal in Kiev, Ukraine.

As a result of sanctions imposed by the West after the Russian intervention in Ukraine, Russia has no access to the systems and is replacing each system with a Russian equivalent. These include the BINS-SP-2 inertial navigation system (used on the Su-35); MFI-66 displays; IKSh-1KI-1 head-up display; VIM-95 and VND-94 TACAN receivers; and the NSTs-T-03 helmet-mounted sight.

2 Su-33s on the flight deck of the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.
3 Su-30MK2V 5812, assigned to Grupo Aéreo de Caza 13 of the Aviación Militar Bolivariana, is one of 24 received by Venezuela between 2006 and 2008.
Ivan Nesbit/AirTeamImages

In early 2016, Russia started marketing the Su-30SME version independently of the Indian Su-30MKI version; the export derivative of the Su-30SM without equipment supplied from overseas nations.

Further Improvements

Russian authorities intend to further improve the Su-30SM’s capabilities in a research and development programme started in 2016 which is expected to last until 2019.

The improved version will be fitted with a new computing system and carry a series of new types of weapons; most likely the R-77-1 and R-74M air-to-air missile; Kh-31M, Kh-35U and Kh-38M air-to-surface missiles. Others are planned.

Two stages of a radar upgrade are planned: the first replaces the Indian computers with indigenous examples, and the second enhances performance (longer range, higher jamming resistance and new operating modes). Replacement of the passive array with an active array unified with the N036 radar’s antenna from the T-50 PAK FA was considered, but has fallen out of favour.

In 2013, the Russian Ministry of Defence placed an order with the KNIRTI institute at Kaluga to supply the new L-420 Khibiny-U (U probably stands for Unifitsirovannyi or unified) self-defence suite for various fighter types; the Su-30SM will be equipped first. The new S-107-2 communication suite will also be installed.

Also set for a major upgrade programme is the Indian Su-30MKI, unofficially known as the Super Sukhoi or Super 30, the upgrade has remained in negotiations between Russia and India for a long time without a conclusion. Extent of this upgrade would be similar to the Russian programme, but involves the use of foreign components, including the planned use of an Israeli computer.

India wants to adapt the Su-30MKI to carry indigenous weapons including Astra air-to-air missiles. An Astra missile was launched from a Su-30MKI for the first time on May 4, 2014.

4 Su-27K T10K-1, side number 37, was the first one built and made its maiden flight on August 17, 1987.

On June 25, 2016 the first, long-awaited flight of a Su-30MKI loaded with an Indo- Russian Brahmos-A missile carried on its belly hardpoint took place from HAL’s airfield at Nasik. The first unpowered release of a Brahmos-A missile took place in December 2016. In February 2017 BrahMos Aerospace Chief Executive Officer Sudhir Mishra told AIR International the missile’s launch against a ship target would be conducted within two to three months.


The common Su-30MK designation covers two separate families of two-seat multirole fighters; the Flanker-H built at Irkutsk and the Flanker-G built at Komsomolsk-on- Amur. A third family, which started with the Su-30MKK developed for China, is based on the standard Su-27UB airframe with the Su-27’s conventional fire-control system, and features minor upgrades but is less advanced.


The Su-33 has the ability to conduct buddy-buddy air refuelling when fitted with a UPAZ-1K (Unifitsirovannyi Podvesnoy Agregat Zapravki) refuelling pod carried beneath the fuselage. The UPAZ-1K pod houses a 52mm (2in) internal diameter 26m (85ft) long hose and functions with a fuel transfer pump rated at 2,300 litres (607 gallons) per minute. Powered by a ram air turbine, extension and retraction of the hose and the fuel transfer pump operation is autonomous, without the need for external power from the aircraft. Air refuelling is an important capability, because the Admiral Kuznetsov has a ski-jump rather than steam catapults, which limits an aircraft’s maximum permitted take-off weight. If needed, a Su-33 can launch with the required weapons payload without full fuel tanks; refuelling takes place in the air. Maximum take-off weight from the carrier deck is reportedly 26,000kg (57,200lb), which means with a nominal (not full) fuel load a Su-33 can only carry four air-to-air missiles

5 The UPAZ-1K refuelling pod fitted under a Su-33 enables fuel transfer to another aircraft at a rate of 2,300 litres per minute.
Piotr Butowsk
6 The UPAZ-1K refuelling pod features three coloured lights for signalling to the pilot of the receiver aircraft.
Piotr Butowski
1 In 2002, thrust-vectoring AL-31FP engines were fitted on the Su-27KUB.
Piotr Butowski

The early Su-30MKK version (K for Kitay, Russian for China) has an N001VE radar; a standard Su-27 N001 radar with a Cassegrain antenna, upgraded with a new computer and software to enable use of RVV-AE air-to-air missiles.

Additionally, the Su-30MKK has a separate SUV-P1I fire control subsystem enabling use of laser- and TV-guided air-to-surface munitions.


Wingspan: 14.7m (48ft 3in)

Length without probe: 21.93m (71ft 11in)

Height: 6.4m (21ft)

Wing area: 62.03m2 (668ft2)

Tail plane span: 9.88m (32ft 5in)

Wheelbase: 5.8m (19ft)

Wheel track: 4.34m (14ft 3in)

Max take-off weight: 34,500kg (76,059lb)

Max permissible take-off weight (no more than 20 take-offs): 38,000kg (83,776lb)

Max landing weight: 23,600kg (52,029lb)

Max permissible landing weight: 30,000kg (66,139lb)

Max speed (high altitude): Mach 2.0

Max speed (sea level): Mach 1.1 (1,350km/h)

G limit: +8.5/-2g

Service ceiling (clean): 56,760ft (17,300m)

Max range: 3,000km (1,620nm)

Max range (sea level, maximum fuel and two R-27 and two R-73 missiles: 1,270km (685nm)

Take-off run (normal take-off weight): 550m (1,804ft)

Landing run (brake chute deployed): 750m (2,461ft)

Engines: Two AL-31F series 23 turbofans, each rated at 122.6kN (27,562lb) with maximum afterburner

2 A rare weapon configuration under the folded wing of a Su-33 comprising two S-25OFM unguided rockets on a twin pylon and an R-73 air-to-air missile and Sorbtsiya electronic countermeasures pod above.
Piotr Butowski

Originally designed for Chinese Naval Aviation service, the Su-30MK2 uses the N001VEP radar with a separate computing channel to enable ground mapping in synthetic aperture radar mode, detection of surface targets and designation for Kh-31A anti-ship missiles.

Su-30MKs built at Komsomolsk use entirely Russian equipment and are therefore not subject to export limitations and can be sold to countries subjected to sanctions. China purchased 76 Su-30MKKs between 2000 and 2003 and 24 Su-30MK2s in 2004, but later stopped ordering aircraft from Russia and started development of its own J-16 flghter, an indigenous version of the Su- 30MK2.

Other orders for Su-30MK-series aircraft are: Indonesia two Su-30MKKs (2003) and nine Su-30MK2s (2008 to 2013); Vietnam 24 Su-30MK2Vs (2004 to 2012) and another 12 (2014 to 2016); Venezuela 24 Su-30MK2Vs (2006 to 2008); and Uganda six Su-30MK2s (2011 and 2012).

Russia’s Ministry of Defence ordered Su- 30M2s (a version of the Su-30MK2 adapted for Russian requirements) with new software modes, national IFF, and datalink; four ordered in August 2009 (delivered in 2010 and 2011), and 16 ordered on December 29, 2012 (delivered between 2013 and 2016).

These aircraft are being used as combat trainers and assigned to units operating single-seat Su-27SM and Su-35S fighters. It remains unlikely that the Komsomolsk plant will produce any more Su-30MKs because its production is now focussed on the Su-35S.

Strike Capabilities

The Su-30 is a multi-role version of the Flanker, capable of carrying air-to-surface weapons, unavailable to the classic Su-27 version. Although weapons integrated on the Su-30MKI and Su-30MK2 are virtually identical, in reality India’s Su-30MKI serves primarily as an air superiority fighter while China’s Su-30MK2 is more focussed on strike missions. The most potent weapon is the supersonic Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton) missile.

The Kh-31 has rocket-ramjet propulsion with a solid rocket propellant booster and a ramjet which accelerates the missile to Mach 3.5 at 52,500ft (16,000m), or Mach 1.8 at sea level: high-speed is the Kh-31’s big advantage. The first and most widespread version is the anti-radar Kh-31P with a passive radar seeker. The Kh-31A is an antishipping derivative with the RGS-31 active radar seeker with a lock-on range of 30km (16nm) and lock-on before and lock-on after launch operating modes. Initial flight tests with a Kh-31 were made in May 1982. Series production of the missile started in 1987 at a plant in Korolev.

Production stopped after collapse of the Soviet Union and resumed in 1997 for export sales to India, China, Vietnam and Yemen, and later for the Russian Air Force. Against an order placed in 1994, the Russians designed the KR-1 (Kitay-Rossiya or China-Russia) version of the Kh-31P, later manufactured in China as the Ying Ji YJ-91. At a later date, a batch of standard Kh-31P and Kh-31A missiles was sold to China together with Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2s.

Production of the modernised Kh-31PM (Kh- 31PD for export) started in 2012. The Kh-31PM features a longer body (5.34m/17.5ft versus 4.70m/15.4ft); an increased fuel load; and a new seeker. Maximum range, when launched from 49,000ft (15,000m) at Mach 1.5, increased to 180-250km (97-135nm). The Kh-31AM active-radar version is under development.

3 The first Su-35S for the Russian Air Force during tests with Kh-31 air-to-surface and R-73 air-to-air missiles. Note the freefall bombs loaded on pylons between the engines.
Piotr Butowski

The Su-33 is not a lucky aircraft. In the 1980s, the Su-33 (or Su-27K) carrier-based fighter was important for the Soviets, when they were planning to construct a large fleet of aircraft carriers. At the end of the USSR, there was one aircraft carrier in service, now known as Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov.

Two other ships, Varyag and Ulyanovsk were under construction at the Mykolaiv shipyard in Ukraine. Russia ceased funding for the ships’ continued construction after collapse of the USSR and Ukraine did not need the ships. The Varyag was sold to China, where she currently serves as Liaoning and the Ulyanovsk was dismantled in the dock. Russia has no current aircraft carrier construction programme and it’s doubtful a new ship of this class will be built within the foreseeable future given Russia’s difficult economic situation.

According to the original plan from the early 1980s, the primary aircraft to be deployed on board the Admiral Kuznetsov was the Yak-41 short take-off, vertical landing fighter.

However, because the fourth-generation MiG-29 and Su-27 each offered a high thrust-to-weight ratio, they were applicable to horizontal take-off carrier operations using a ski-jump. When later trials at Nitka (see below) confirmed the applicability of the MiG- 29K and the Su-27K to carrier operations, development of the Yak-41 was stopped.

To support its carrier aviation plan, in 1982 the Soviets built the Nitka ground test facility imitating the deck of a future carrier commonly called Nitka (Naziemnyi Ispytatelno-Trenirowochyi Kompleks or ground research and training complex) at Naval Air Base Novofyodorovka near the town of Saki in Crimea.

The first ski-jump built at the Nitka facility, dubbed T-1, was 5.0m high with a slope of 8.5°.

Su-27 prototype T10-3, side number 310, flown by Nikolai Sadovnikov took off from T-1 for the first time on August 28, 1982 (MiG-29, side number 18, completed its first take-off the ski jump needed extensive modifications which resulted in construction of a modified ski-jump, dubbed T-2, completed in 1984. T-2 was 5.6m high, 53.5m long, 17.5m wide, with a slope of 14.3°: identical to the flight deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov. Su-27 prototype T10-25 began trials using T-2 and the use of an arrester hook on September 1, 1984.

Sukhoi and TsAGI developed a new aerodynamic configuration featuring canards to decrease the aircraft’s angleof- attack during take-off and landing specifically for the Su-33. Compared to the standard Su-27, the Su-33 also has an arrester hook (no drag chute) and strengthened landing gear with long-stroke shock absorbers and twin nose wheels. A large flaperon occupies the full trailing edge of the wing (about 60% on the Su-27) to decrease landing speed; two-section single-slotted flaps are built into the flaperon. Full-span slats are also included.

Reduction of the Su-33’s footprint size was paramount for stowage in the carrier’s hangar deck, so the outer wing sections, tail planes, nose radome (hinged upwards) and tail boom can all be folded. Competition with the smaller MiG-29K forced Sukhoi’s designers to seek every possible way to reduce the Su-33’s footprint size for parking.


Wing span: 14.70 m (48ft 3in)

Length (without probe): 21.18m (69ft 6in)

Max height: 5.72m (18ft 9in)

Width for stowage (wings and tail plane folded): 7.40m (24ft 3in)

Length for stowage (nose and tail folded): 19.2m (62ft 11in)

Wing area: 67.84m2 (730.2ft2)

Tail plane span: 9.80m (32ft 2in)

Wheelbase: 5.87m (19ft 3in)

Wheel track: 4.44m (14ft 6in)

Nominal take-off weight: 25,000kg (55,116lb)

Max take-off weight: 33,000kg (72,752lb)

Max landing weight: 24,500kg (54,013lb)

Max speed: Mach 2.17

Max speed (at sea level): Mach 1.96 (1,300km/h)

Approach speed: 240km/h (149mph)

G limit: +8/-2g

Service ceiling: 56,000ft (17,000m)

Max range (without flight refuelling at sea level): 1,000km (540nm)

Max range (without flight refuelling at altitude): 3,000km (1,620nm)

Engines: Two modified AL-31F series 3 turbofans, each rated at 75.2kN (16,909lb) dry; 122.5kN

(27,558lbf) with afterburner and 125.5kN (28,219lb) emergency thrust.


The Su-27K’s fire-control system is slightly modified when compared with the Su- 27’s S-27 (mostly software) and combines the RLPK-27K (N001K) radar and OEPS- 27K electro-optical targeting system with increased-range and the OLS-27K infrared search and track sensor. The navigation system was augmented with the Rezistor- K42-Bort system that allows fully automatic or manual approach to the aircraft carrier. Up to 6,500kg (14,330lb) of weapons and stores can be carried on 12 hard points.

Weapon options are generally similar to those of the Su-27 and include air-to-air missiles; R-27 and R-27Es (medium-to-longrange/ extended-range) and R-73s (shortrange).

1 The AL-41F1S engine powers the latest Su-35.
Piotr Butowski

The K-27EM (Morskaya or sea) air-to-air missile was specifically developed for the Su-33 with the RGS-31 semi-active radar seeker, intended for use against targets flying at low altitude just above the sea surface (Tomahawk and Harpoon cruise missiles).

Development work was aborted in 1991 before trials began. The single GSh-301 fixed cannon is retained. As a pure fleet defence and air-superiority fighter; the Su-33 has no capability to carry air-to-surface guided weapons.

The first Su-27K T10K-1, side number 37, flew for the first time on August 17, 1987 piloted by Viktor Pugachev.

Viktor Pugachev landed a Su-27K aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov, under way in the Black Sea, on November 1, 1989; the first time a conventional Russian aircraft landed aboard a ship (followed by a MiG-29K and a Su-25UTG the same day).

Two Su-27K prototypes, T10K-1 and T10K- 2, were built by the Sukhoi works in Moscow and seven pre-production aircraft, T10K-3 to T10K-9, were built at Komsomolsk-on-Amur between 1990 and 1991 were all used for tests.

A further 26 aircraft were delivered to Russian Naval Aviation between 1993 and 1996. Sukhoi’s design bureau has used the designations Su-27K and Su-33 since the early 1990s. After many years of testing and improvement, the Su-27K officially entered Russian Naval Aviation service on August 31, 1998 when it was officially designated as the Su-33 for the first time.

Export Customers

When Sukhoi’s management realised further production of the Su-33 was unlikely and therefore would not generate much profit they lost interest in the aircraft. Sukhoi only refreshed the Su-33 programme for a brief time when India and China were seeking a fighter for their respective carriers; INS Vikramaditya (the former Gorshkov) and the future Liaoning (the former Varyag).

In 1999, Sukhoi prepared a proposal for the upgraded Su-33KM (Kommercheskiy Modernizirovannyi or commercially modernised), which in addition to the original weapons arsenal could carry up to six RVV-AE air-to-air missiles; up to six Kh-31 air-to-surface missiles (Kh-31A anti-ship and Kh-31P anti-radar); two TV-guided Kh-59M extended-range missiles; short-range electrooptical guided Kh-29 missiles; and KAB-500 and KAB-1500 guided bombs. The N001K radar was to be upgraded to a standard similar to the system fitted in Su-30MK2; and a glass featuring two large multifunction displays were to be integrated in the cockpit.

While the Su-33KM was only a concept, the Su-27KUB (Uchebno-Boyevoy, combat trainer or Su-33UB) reached prototype status. A prototype Su-27KUB was converted from the Su-33 T10K-4 which made its first post-conversion flight on April 29, 1999. On September 6, the aircraft took off from the Nitka ski jump and landed aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov for the first time on October 6. In September 1999 an Indian pilot flew a familiarisation flight in the Su-27KUB at Saki; the aircraft was also presented to Chinese authorities.

2 The most modern member of the Flanker family is the Su-35S, intended as a low-cost complementary fighter to the T-50 PAK FA, along with its Su-30SM and Su-30M2 fleets.
Piotr Butowski
3 The first Su-35 prototype, side number 901, was used for initial testing and lacks a fire-control system.
Piotr Butowski

Changes introduced to the Su-27KUB airframe compared to the Su-33 were significant enough to consider it a new aircraft; the cockpit has side-by-side seating; the wing span of 16.36m is 1.66m more than the Su-33; and the tail- and foreplanes were enlarged.

Despite its designation, the Su-27KUB is a combat aircraft rather than a trainer. In 2001, the Su-27KUB was fitted with a Phazotron- NIIR N010 Zhuk radar (from the MiG-29K) and two years later an experimental Sokol N031 Zhuk-MSF passive electronically scanned array radar. In 2002 AL-31FP engines with thrust vectoring were retrofitted to the Su-27KUB. However, in 2004, India eventually selected the MiG-29K and China decided to develop the indigenous J-15 carrier-borne fighter using as a pattern, Su-33 prototype T10K-7, acquired by China from Ukraine in 2004. Consequently, Sukhoi lost interest in carrier-based fighters, and voluntarily gave way to the MiG-29K.

4 All three types of new air-to-air missiles under development for the Flanker: the short-range R-74M; long-range R-77-1; and very long-range R-37M.
Piotr Butowski

Syrian Deployment

Of the 26 operational Su-33s delivered, five were lost in service (aircraft side number 65 in 1996, 73 in 2000, 70 in 2001, 82 in 2005 and 67 in 2016); another production aircraft crashed in 1994 before delivered; and two prototypes crashed, T10K-1 in 1988 and T10K-8 in 1991.

Russian Naval Aviation reportedly has 14 airworthy Su-33s currently assigned to the 279th OKIAP (Otdelnyi Korabelnyi Istrebitelnyi Aviatsionnyi Polk, Independent Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment) based at Severomorsk-3 Air Base and part of the Northern Fleet.

Aircraft with side numbers 60 through 76 have an eagle emblem on their tailfins denoting assignment to the first squadron, and side numbers 77 through 88 have a tiger emblem for the second squadron. The unit’s full name is the 279th Smolensk OKIAP, which was awarded the Order of the Red Banner and named after World War Two ace Boris Safonov. Admiral Kuznetsov left Murmansk on October 15, 2016, bound for the Mediterranean Sea and accompanied by the nuclear battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy and other smaller ships to participate in Russian military operations in Syria. It was Kuznetsov’s sixth deployment to the Mediterranean and its combat debut. On October 26, the battle group passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, entered the Mediterranean Sea and reached its operating area off the Syrian coast on November 8.

Prior to the deployment, the Su-33s underwent an upgrade that had been planned for years, but not implemented due to indecision. Included were partial replacement of the original navigation system by the low-cost SVP-24-33 (Spetsializirovannaya Vychislitelnaya Podsistema, special computing subsystem), a device that enhances navigation accuracy, thanks to a new computer and radio navigation system coupled to a satellite receiver.

The SVP-24 was originally developed for the Su-24M Fencer tactical bomber by Gefest & T based at Zhukovsky, which claims navigation accuracy is increased by a factor of two to three. Being equipped with the SVP-24 enables the Su-33 to employ unguided weapons during complex manoeuvring; previously the fighter could only employ unguided weapons in straight and level flight.

Installation took place during the summer of 2016 on at least eight Su-33s (side numbers 60, 67, 71, 77, 78, 84, 85 and 88) at Gefest & T workshops at Zhukovsky. Despite the upgrade, the Su-33 primarily remains an air-superiority fighter tasked to provide carrier defence.

In keeping with usual Russian Naval Aviation standards, the air group embarked on the Admiral Kuznetsov included at least nine Su-33s: side numbers 62, 66, 67, 71, 76, 78, 84, 85 and 88 were observed. Reportedly, four of these aircraft took part in a strike mission against targets in Syria for the first time on November 15, 2016, each loaded with two 500kg free-fall unguided bombs. The November 16 mission was the first combat use of the Su-33 from Admiral Kuznetsov, though it’s hard to class the strikes as being of great operational significance.

Russian Naval Aviation lost three aircraft during the cruise; one Su-33 and two MiG-29s.

Su-33 side number 67 sank in the Mediterranean Sea on December 3, 2016. When an arresting wire broke on landing, the aircraft failed to stop, overran the deck and fell into the sea, but, thankfully, the pilot ejected safely. Russian media, referring to sources in the Russian Navy’s staff and the aerospace industry, claim the Su-33 was lost because the pilot exceeded the landing axis limit, inducing excessive load into the arresting wire, which tore off. The measured landing axis for the December 3 accident was 4.7m (15.4ft), while the limit is 4.2m (13.8ft).

5 The upper forward fuselage of the Su-35 houses sensors for the OLS-35 IRST (left); the SOER missile approach warning system (middle); and the air refuelling probe (right), all mounted forward of the cockpit canopy.
Piotr Butowski

Cause of the wire break was initially alleged to be a production defect, though this was rejected by Proletarsky Zavod in St Petersburg, the manufacturer of the arresting wires. Russian Naval Aviation lost another Su-33 in the Atlantic Ocean on September 5, 2005, due to the arresting wire breaking.

Everything New, the Su-35

Although the Su-35 looks similar to the Su- 27, it differs from the classic version more than any of the later variants of the Flanker.

Launched as an export-only programme and funded solely by Sukhoi and its partners, the Su-35 was unveiled at the Dubai air show in December 2003. Initially, the project was designated the Su-35BM (Bolshaya Modernizatsiya, major modernisation) to distinguish it from the previous Su-35 (Su-27M), but the BM letters were soon abandoned.

No Canards

Launched 30 years after the original Su-27, many of the original design features were revised; new lighter materials were adopted for the internal structure and the canard fore planes were removed for a couple of reasons. Canards impeded the design team’s ability to improve manoeuvrability, a function performed on the Su-35 by movable jet nozzles; and a deflected engine thrust vector generates additional super circulation airflow around the wing to increase significantly the lifting force at high angles-of-attack. Consequently, the original advantages of fitting canard fore planes to the Flanker were lost leaving just disadvantages of additional weight and drag. Thus, after years of the tandem triplane configuration, Sukhoi’s hallmark, the Su-35 returned to a configuration similar to the classic Su-27. The most significant aerodynamic configuration change is the lack of a large aerodynamic brake on the spine of the Su-35. Instead, air braking is effected by differential deflection of the rudders. The Su-35 features one entirely new feature: a quadruple-redundant digital fly-by-wire system.

Uprated Engine

Flankers have always been powered by two AL-31F engines each rated at 122.5kN (27,558lb) of thrust with upgrades introduced primarily to improve handling characteristics and extend the service life; with few exceptions, engine thrust has remained unchanged. For the Su-35, Sukhoi designers opted to install a new engine with much greater thrust. When the Su-35 was under development, Sukhoi was simultaneously designing the T-50 PAK FA new-generation fighter powered by the AL-41F1 (izdeliye 117) engine. Its subvariant, the AL-41F1S (izdeliye 117S) with its own control system was adopted for the Su-35. Control of the AL-41F1 used on the PAK FA is via the aircraft’s flight control system. The AL-41F1S is an upgraded version of the AL-31FP featuring a larger 932mm (36.7in) diameter fan (compared to the original 902mm/35.5in) and greater thrust rated at 142.2kN (31,967lb) in emergency mode. On March 5, 2004 Su-27M experimental aircraft, side number 710, commenced test flights powered by a prototype version of the AL-41F1S engine installed in the starboard nacelle.

The Su-35’s key capability is full integration of all systems and sensors within the KPrNO-35 (Kompleks Pritselno- Navigatsionnogo Oborudowaniya, targetingnavigation equipment system) controlled by a central computing system incorporating two Baget-53 computers. Sukhoi’s design bureau is responsible for the systems integration; in the past, fire-control and flight-navigation systems were usually integrated on Sukhoi fighters by RPKB of Ramenskoye. Similar architecture used for the Su-35 has also been integrated by Sukhoi on the PAK FA.

Irbis Radar

The Sh135 Irbis (Snow Leopard, or Irbis-E for export) radiolocation system comprises an N135 radar and a Khibiny-M electronic countermeasures suite. The N135 developed by the Tikhomirov NIIP institute and produced by the GRPZ facility in Ryazan is an evolution of the N011M Bars radar fitted to the Su- 30MKI. The radar system employs a passive electronically scanned array and two Solo- 35.01 (initial signal processing) and Solo- 35.02 (data processing and radar control) computers. A Type 4283MP IFF interrogator is integrated within the Sh135 radar system. Advantages of the Irbis system compared to the Bars include a wider range of operational frequencies, a greater angular search zone in azimuth of up to +/-125° (due to an improved antenna and double-step drive), increased range (due to a more powerful transmitter) and improved resistance to jamming, as well as finer resolution. The radar has an aperture sufficient to specify the number of targets in a group: from a distance of 50km (27nm), the Irbis-E can reportedly distinguish targets located 50–100m (160-320ft) from each other.

The Irbis-E is capable of tracking-whilescanning up to 30 air targets, eight of which can be quasi-continually tracked with an accuracy sufficient for simultaneous engagement by medium-range radar-guided air-to-air missiles. Two targets can be engaged simultaneously with semi-active radar-guided missiles (requiring target illumination). In air-to-ground mode, the Irbis-E can simultaneously engage four surface targets.

1 Russian Air Force Su-35S RF-95477, Red 54 lands at Kubinka Air Base.
Piotr Butowski
2 In 2004, a Su-30MK2 dropped a Kh-59M2A anti-ship missile that reached a range of 285km.

Operating in so-called long-range detection mode at a peak power output of 20kW (standard power is 5kW), limited to a narrow sector, the Irbis-E can detect a fighter-sized target from 350–400km (189–216nm) head-on or 150km (81nm) tailon. Ranges are half the specified distances in normal search mode.

Made by KNIRTI at Zhukov near Kaluga, the L-265M10R Khibiny-M electronic countermeasures suite comprises a reconnaissance and a countermeasures section. Part of the Khibiny-M suite, operating in the most common HF waveband (H-J), is built in to the airframe. When required, two pods can be mounted on the wingtips to enhance the system’s capability via the medium waveband (E-G).

Typically for a Russian fighter, the OLS-35 infrared search-and-track sensor, made by the NPK SPP (Scientific and Production Corporation Precision Instrument Systems) company in Moscow, is mounted forward of the cockpit. The sensor comprises mid-range infrared (3–5μm wavelength) and electrooptical cameras using a common optical module, and a laser rangefinder and target designator. The reflector scans a sweep of +/-90° in azimuth and -15/+60° in elevation. A target of the size of a Su-30 can be detected from 90km (49nm) tail-on, or 35km (19nm) head-on; four airborne targets can be simultaneously tracked. The laser rangefinder acquires the distance to the air target within a range from 200m to 20km (650ft to 11nm), or 30km (16nm) against a ground target. The pilot uses a Sura-M helmet-mounted sight made by Ukrainian company Arsenal, but these are currently being replaced with Russian-made NSTs-T devices.

3 The Su-35 cockpit features two 380 x 380mm (15 x 15in) MFI-35 displays, a wide angle IKSh-1M head-up display and data input panels.

Self-protection Sensors

NPK SPP produces the SOER (Sistema Optiko-Elektronnoi Razvedki, electrooptical reconnaissance system) missile launch and approach warning system that includes six infrared sensors: one forward-looking mounted near the IRST; one aft-looking, mounted on the fuselage spine behind the cockpit; two on the sides of the forward fuselage; and two sensors, one forward-looking and one aft-looking, mounted in a small pod underneath the nose. The infrared sensors work in the 3–5μm waveband range and (data for export version) recognise launch of a man-portable anti-aircraft missile from 10km (5nm), an air-to-air missile from 30km (16nm) and a large surface-to-air missile from 50km (27nm). A laser subsystem has two laser warning sensors mounted on the sides of the forward fuselage that can detect laser rangefinders tracking the aircraft from 30km (16nm). According to NPK SPP the SOER system determines the position of a detected aircraft and missiles with an accuracy up to 1° and a laser radiation source up to 5°.

The Su-35’s radar warning receiver is the L150-35 Pastel made by TsKBA in Omsk that features an extended working frequency range (for the Su-35) from 1.2 to 40 GHz (typically up to 18 GHz); its direction finding resolution is 3–5°, and also indicates targets for anti-radar missiles. The Su-35 has six 14–round UV-50 decoy dispensers mounted in the sting positioned between the engine nozzles. All six were launched upwards on early aircraft, but in current production aircraft the two outer cassettes are launched downwards.

4 An Irbis radar during tests on a Su-30.
Piotr Butowski collection

New Missiles

A Su-35 can carry a weapon and stores payload of up to 8,000kg (17,637lb) carried on 12 hard points managed by an RSUO- 35PS stores management system. All types of tactical air-to-air missile currently in the Russian inventory are cleared for carriage on the Su-35 and will be joined by new missiles released for service in the coming years. On July 27, 2012, a guided missile, probably an R-73, was fired by a Su-35S for the first time.

5 An N135 Irbis radar for the Su-35 during tests on Su-30MK, side number 503 test aircraft in 2007. Piotr
Butowski collection
1 Su-30MK2, side number 503, launches a Kh-29L laser-guided missile.

Air-to-surface weapons cleared for the Su-35 include: the Kh-31PM and Kh-58USh anti-radar missiles; Kh-31AM, Kh-35U and Kh-59MK anti-ship missiles; universal Kh-38M air-to-ground missiles with various seekers; and 250kg (551lb), 500kg (1,102lb) and 1,500kg (3,307lb) guided bombs. Sukhoi has presented advertisements for the Su-35 featuring other weapons, for example the heavy Yakhont and Kalibr-A anti-ship missiles.

A new interim generation of Russian air-toair missiles intended for the Su-35 and other fighters are the short-range R-74M, mediumrange R-77-1 and long-range R-37M missiles, are all being developed by Vympel based in Moscow. All three types are currently in production, while the next short-range K-74M2, medium-range K-77M and longrange 810 are being tested.

The K-74M short-range air-to-air missile is a further development of the R-73 with a new more sensitive two-band infrared Impuls-90 seeker with increased off-bore sight angles and digital signal processing.

Except for the seeker, the missile’s external appearance has not changed. On October 3, 2012, the K-74M completed state evaluation and was officially commissioned for service with the Russian Air Force and given the military designation R-74M (K denotes the development phase and once in service it adopts the R designation). There are two subvariants; the R-74MK with a radar proximity fuse and the R-74ML with a laser fuse. The R-74 is offered for export as the RVV-MD (Raketa Vozdukh-Vozdukh Maloy Dalnosti, short-range air-to-air missile). Series production of the R-74M, due to start in 2013 at the Duks Company facility in Moscow, remains at a standstill, because of lack of Impuls-90 seekers, which are produced in Ukraine. Despite efforts, the Russians have not managed to replace the Ukrainian seeker with an indigenous alternative.

The R-77-1 (AA-12B Adder) or for export the RVV-SD (where S denotes Sredney, medium) medium-range air-to-air missile is an upgraded version of the R-77 (RVV-AE for export), which was launched for the first time by a Su-27SM(3) in September 2010.

In comparison to the basic RVV-AE, the R-77-1 features refined aerodynamics with a streamlined nose cone, hidden control fin fittings and rounded under-fuselage. Software for the missile’s control system has been updated and the upgraded seeker has a more powerful transmitter, a more sensitive receiver and improved resistance to jamming.

The R-37M (AA-13 Axehead) or for export the RVV-BD (where B means Bolshoy, big) is a new long-range air-to-air missile that was launched for the first time by a MiG- 31 in 2011. The R-37M completed state acceptance evaluation in early 2014 and remains in series production at the KTRV factory in Korolev.

Powered by a dual-mode solid-propellant rocket motor, the R-37M flies to the target on a lofted trajectory profile controlled by a dual X and Ku-band active radar seeker in the terminal stage. The seeker can lock on to a target with a 5m2 (54ft2) radar crosssection from at least 40km (21nm) distance. Currently, the MiG-31BM interceptor is the main Russian Air Force type to carry the R-37M missile, but is fielded as a universal weapon for various MiG and Sukhoi fighters. The Su-35 carries four R-37Ms, two loaded in tandem between engines and two on inner underwing pylons.


The Su-35 has replaced Su-27SM(3)s and two-seat Su-30MK2s on the production line at Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The first Su-35, side number 901, in export configuration flew on February 19, 2008, with Sergei Bogdan at the controls. The second, side number 902, commenced tests on October 2, 2008, and should have been followed by the third, side number 904 which burned out on the runway on April 26, 2009, before its first flight (903 was built for static testing). Aircraft 904 was the first in full configuration and its loss delayed testing by many months.

Initially, the Su-35 was positioned as an interim fighter until the launch of the T-50 PAK FA fifth-generation fighter. However, the position of the Su-35 has radically changed, because the Russian Ministry of Defence concluded that converting ten fighter regiments each equipped with 36 aircraft (currently the Russian Air Force has as many Flanker and Fulcrum operational units) solely with expensive PAK FA fighters was too costly. Another fighter type, simpler and cheaper than the PAK FA, is need, but one that meets basic Russian Air Force requirements including a range of at least 3,000km (1,620nm), which rules out any type of lightweight fighter. Consequently, the Su-35 (along with the Su-30SM) will complement the PAK FA in the ranks of the Russian Air Force.


Wingspan: 14.7m (48ft 2in)

Wingspan with wingtip pods: 15.3m (50ft 2in)

Length: 21.9m (71ft 10in)

Height: 5.9m (19ft 4in)

Nominal take-off weight (with four air-to-air missiles): 25,300kg (55,777lb)

Max take-off weight: 34,500kg (76,059lb)

Max speed (at 36,000ft/11,000m): Mach 2.25

Max speed (at sea level): Mach 1.14 (1,400km/h)

Service ceiling: 59,000ft (18,000m)

Acceleration (at 1,000m/3,281ft with 50% nominal fuel): 13.8 seconds from Mach 0.48 to 0.89 (600 to 1,100km/h) and 8 seconds from Mach 0.89 to 1.06 (1,100 to 1,300km/h)

Max rate of climb (at 1,000m/3,281ft with 50% nominal fuel): 280m/s (55,118ft/min)

G limit: 9g

Max range (with full internal fuel at sea level and Mach 0.7): 1,580km (855nm)

Max range (with full internal fuel at high altitude): 3,600km (1,945nm)

Max range (with two 2,000-litre/440 gallon external tanks): 4,500km (2,430nm)

Take-off run (nominal take-off weight, with full thrust): 400–450m (1,312–1,476ft)

Landing run (nominal landing weight with brake chute deployed): 650–700m (2,133–2,297ft)

Engines: Two thrust-vectoring AL-41F1S turbofans with a maximum dry thrust of 86.3kN (19,401lb); afterburning thrust of 137.3kN (30,865lb); and emergency thrust of 142.2kN (31,967lb) each. A TA14-130-35 auxiliary power unit is provided.

2 Ukrainian Air Force Su-27, side number 100, received a digital colour scheme in 2012.
Piotr Butowski

In accordance with this concept, the Russian Air Force ordered 48 Su-35S fighters to be delivered by 2015 during the MAKS air show at Zhukovsky near Moscow in August 2009. On May 3, 2011, Su-35S-1 (the third Su-35 to fly) made its first flight at Komsomolsk-on-Amur, the first Su-35S to do so. On May 28, 2011, Su-35S-1 arrived at Akhtubinsk, the military evaluation centre, to commence qualification trials. The second aircraft, Su-35S-2, flew for the first time on December 2, 2011, the third Su-35S-3 followed on January 17, 2012, and the fourth Su-35S-4 on February 19, 2012. All four of the initial Su-35S aircraft, side numbers 01 to 04, are used for testing, which progressed very slowly because of serious problems with avionics integration.

The first batch of 12 Su-35S fighters was delivered to the Russian Air Force on February 12, 2014; their home was the 23rd IAP at Dzyomgi Air Base (Komsomolsk-on- Amur). Further deliveries followed to the 22nd IAP at Tsentralnaya Uglovaya Air Base (Vladivostok) in July 2015, and then to the 159th IAP at Besovets Air Base in Karelia near the Finnish border, where four aircraft arrived on December 6, 2016.

Like the Su-30SM, the Russian Air Force deployed four Su-35S fighters to its base in Syria to provide fighter cover for the strike group. In addition to R-27 and R-73 missiles, the Su-35S fighters have been seen operating with the new R-77-1 medium-range air-to-air missile that recently entered service.

In December 2015, the Su-35S successfully completed all trials (the socalled second stage of state evaluation), the month that the Russian Ministry of Defence ordered 50 more increasing its total to 98. By the end of 2016, the Russian Air Force had received 58 Su-35S aircraft, which includes 12 delivered in 2006.

Because of the Su-35, new Sukhoi fighters were delivered to China for the first time in ten years. China signed a contract for 24 Su-35 aircraft in November 2015 and the first four arrived in country in December 2016. The aircraft are delivered in a baseline configuration and then adapted for integration of Chinese equipment and weapons.