Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker)

The Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker) is a twin-engine, supermaneuverable fighter aircraft designed for air superiority missions, featuring advanced avionics, long range, and a powerful weapons suite.

The Sukhoi Su-27, known as the “Flanker” in NATO terminology, is a twin-engine, supermaneuverable fighter aircraft designed by the Soviet Union for air superiority missions. First flown in 1977, it is equipped with powerful AL-31F engines, providing a top speed of Mach 2.35 and a service ceiling of 59,100 feet (18,000 meters). The Su-27’s advanced avionics and radar systems enable it to engage multiple targets at long range. It carries a diverse arsenal, including the R-27 and R-73 missiles, and features a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon. Renowned for its agility and range, the Su-27 has seen extensive service and numerous upgrades, forming the basis for several variants used by various air forces.

Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker)

History of the Development of the Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker)

The development of the Sukhoi Su-27 began in the early 1970s, during a period of intense Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. The introduction of the American F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, with their advanced avionics, maneuverability, and air-to-air combat capabilities, posed a significant challenge to Soviet air superiority. The Soviet Union needed a new fighter that could counter these threats and ensure dominance in the skies.

In 1969, the Soviet Union initiated the Perspektivnyy Frontovoy Istrebitel (PFI) program, which translates to Advanced Frontline Fighter program. The goal was to develop a high-performance, long-range interceptor capable of challenging the latest Western fighters. The program was spearheaded by the Sukhoi Design Bureau, led by designer Mikhail Simonov. The Su-27 was envisioned as a multi-role fighter with superior range, speed, and agility.

The design of the Su-27 began in earnest in 1971. The development process was complex and faced numerous challenges, including the need to integrate advanced avionics, powerful engines, and a robust weapons system into a single platform. The project aimed to create an aircraft with exceptional maneuverability, capable of performing high-G turns and advanced aerobatic maneuvers.

The first prototype of the Su-27, designated T-10, made its maiden flight on May 20, 1977. However, initial flight tests revealed several issues, including aerodynamic instability and structural problems. The Sukhoi Design Bureau undertook significant redesign efforts, resulting in a revised version known as the T-10S. This improved prototype first flew in April 1981 and demonstrated much better performance and handling characteristics.

The Su-27 officially entered service with the Soviet Air Forces in 1985. Its NATO reporting name, “Flanker,” reflected its intended role as an air superiority fighter capable of outflanking and engaging enemy aircraft at long ranges. The aircraft’s design emphasized agility, with a combination of large wing area, powerful engines, and advanced aerodynamics.

During its development, the Su-27 was equipped with the Lyulka AL-31F engines, which provided the necessary thrust for its high-speed and high-altitude performance. The aircraft’s avionics suite included the N001 Myech radar, which allowed for long-range detection and tracking of multiple targets. The Su-27’s weapons systems were designed to engage both air and ground targets, with a primary focus on air-to-air combat.

The Su-27’s entry into service marked a significant milestone for the Soviet Union’s air defense capabilities. It provided a counterbalance to the advanced Western fighters and enhanced the Soviet Union’s ability to project power and maintain air superiority. The aircraft’s combination of speed, range, and maneuverability made it a formidable opponent in air-to-air combat scenarios.

The Su-27’s development also paved the way for a series of advanced variants and derivatives. These included the Su-30, Su-33, and Su-35, each incorporating further technological advancements and improvements in performance. The Su-27’s versatility and adaptability ensured its continued relevance in modern air combat, with many of these variants still in service today.

The aircraft’s operational history includes service in various conflicts and military exercises, demonstrating its effectiveness and reliability. The Su-27 has been exported to numerous countries, including China, India, and Indonesia, further cementing its status as one of the most successful fighter aircraft designs of the 20th century.

Design of the Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker)

The design of the Sukhoi Su-27 reflects its primary role as an air superiority fighter, with a focus on agility, speed, and advanced combat capabilities. The aircraft’s sleek and aerodynamic design, coupled with powerful engines and sophisticated avionics, makes it a formidable presence in the skies.

The Su-27 features a distinctive twin-engine layout with engines mounted in nacelles under the fuselage, providing a balanced thrust-to-weight ratio. The aircraft’s overall length is 71.10 feet (21.7 meters), with a wingspan of 48.17 feet (14.7 meters) and a height of 19.52 feet (5.94 meters). This design allows for excellent maneuverability and stability, especially during high-speed maneuvers.

One of the key design elements of the Su-27 is its large wing area, which enhances lift and enables sustained high-G maneuvers. The wing design includes leading-edge extensions (LERXs) that improve airflow and provide additional lift during tight turns. The aircraft’s wingspan and surface area contribute to its exceptional agility, making it capable of performing complex aerobatic maneuvers.

The Su-27’s airframe is constructed using lightweight, high-strength materials such as titanium and aluminum alloys. This construction method reduces the aircraft’s overall weight while maintaining structural integrity. The use of advanced materials also enhances the Su-27’s durability and survivability in combat situations.

The aircraft’s cockpit is designed for optimal pilot visibility and control. The single-seat version features a bubble canopy that provides a wide field of view, crucial for situational awareness during dogfights. The cockpit is equipped with modern avionics, including a head-up display (HUD), multifunction displays, and a sophisticated flight control system.

The Su-27 is powered by two Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F turbofan engines, each capable of producing 27,560 pounds (122.6 kN) of afterburning thrust. These engines provide the aircraft with a maximum speed of Mach 2.35 (1,550 mph or 2,500 km/h) and a service ceiling of 59,100 feet (18,000 meters). The AL-31F engines are known for their reliability and performance, contributing to the Su-27’s impressive speed and climb rate.

The aircraft’s fuel capacity allows for an operational range of 2,190 miles (3,530 kilometers), which can be extended with aerial refueling. This range enables the Su-27 to conduct long-range missions and maintain air superiority over vast areas. The aircraft’s in-flight refueling capability ensures extended operational endurance, a critical factor in sustained combat operations.

The Su-27’s avionics suite includes the N001 Myech radar, which provides long-range detection and tracking of multiple targets. The radar system is capable of engaging both air and ground targets, offering versatility in various combat scenarios. The Su-27’s electronic warfare systems include radar warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers, and electronic countermeasures to enhance survivability against enemy threats.

In terms of armament, the Su-27 is equipped with a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds of ammunition, providing effective close-range firepower. The aircraft’s primary air-to-air missile arsenal includes the R-27 (AA-10 Alamo) and R-73 (AA-11 Archer) missiles. The R-27 missiles offer medium to long-range engagement capabilities, while the R-73 missiles provide highly agile short-range combat options.

The Su-27’s hardpoints allow it to carry a variety of ordnance, including bombs, rockets, and additional air-to-ground missiles. This versatility enables the aircraft to perform a range of mission profiles, from air superiority and interception to ground attack and close air support.

Despite its advanced design, the Su-27 does have some drawbacks. Its relatively large size and weight can affect its maneuverability in certain scenarios, particularly at lower speeds. Additionally, the aircraft’s maintenance requirements and operational costs can be high, necessitating a well-supported logistics and maintenance infrastructure.

Performance of the Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker)

The performance of the Sukhoi Su-27 is a key factor in its reputation as one of the most capable fighter aircraft of its time. Its combination of speed, agility, and advanced systems ensures its effectiveness in a wide range of combat scenarios.

The Su-27 is powered by two Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F turbofan engines, each producing 27,560 pounds (122.6 kN) of afterburning thrust. These engines enable the aircraft to achieve a top speed of Mach 2.35 (1,550 mph or 2,500 km/h) at high altitude. This high speed allows the Su-27 to intercept and engage enemy aircraft quickly, providing a significant tactical advantage.

The aircraft’s service ceiling is 59,100 feet (18,000 meters), which allows it to operate effectively at high altitudes where it can exploit its speed and maneuverability. The Su-27’s rate of climb is impressive, reaching up to 59,055 feet per minute (300 meters per second), enabling it to rapidly gain altitude and position itself advantageously in combat.

One of the standout features of the Su-27 is its exceptional agility. The aircraft’s large wing area and advanced aerodynamic design allow it to perform high-G maneuvers and complex aerobatic actions. The Su-27 is capable of executing the famous “Cobra” maneuver, where the aircraft suddenly pitches up to a near-vertical position before returning to level flight. This maneuverability is a significant asset in dogfights, allowing the Su-27 to evade enemy missiles and position itself for optimal attack angles.

The Su-27’s operational range is approximately 2,190 miles (3,530 kilometers) without external fuel tanks. This range can be extended with aerial refueling, providing the aircraft with the endurance necessary for long-range missions and sustained combat operations. The ability to cover large distances and remain on station for extended periods enhances the Su-27’s effectiveness in maintaining air superiority.

The aircraft’s avionics suite is designed to provide comprehensive situational awareness and target engagement capabilities. The N001 Myech radar system can detect and track multiple targets simultaneously at ranges of up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) for airborne targets and up to 155 miles (250 kilometers) for surface targets. This radar capability enables the Su-27 to engage adversaries at long distances, often before they can detect or respond to the threat.

The Su-27’s armament is tailored for air superiority missions. Its primary air-to-air missiles are the R-27 and R-73. The R-27 missile family includes several variants with different guidance systems, offering flexibility in engaging various types of targets. The R-73 is a highly maneuverable short-range missile with infrared homing, known for its effectiveness in dogfights.

In addition to its missile arsenal, the Su-27 is equipped with a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon. This internal cannon provides a reliable close-range combat option, capable of delivering high rates of fire against enemy aircraft. The Su-27’s hardpoints allow for a variety of additional ordnance, including bombs and rockets, giving it the versatility to perform ground attack missions if required.

When compared to its contemporaries, the Su-27 holds its own as a powerful and versatile fighter. For instance, the American F-15 Eagle, one of the Su-27’s primary rivals, boasts similar speed and altitude capabilities. However, the Su-27’s superior maneuverability and advanced avionics give it an edge in close-range engagements and situational awareness.

The Su-27’s performance has been demonstrated in various international military exercises and combat scenarios. Its ability to perform complex maneuvers, coupled with its advanced weapons systems, has earned it a reputation as a formidable opponent in air combat. The aircraft’s reliability and combat effectiveness have been proven in numerous operational deployments, further solidifying its status as a top-tier fighter.

Variants of the Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker)

The Sukhoi Su-27 has spawned a wide range of variants, each designed to fulfill specific roles and incorporate various technological advancements. Here are some of the notable variants:

  1. Su-27S (Flanker-B): The standard single-seat air superiority fighter variant. It is equipped with advanced avionics and a powerful weapons suite for engaging enemy aircraft.
  2. Su-27UB (Flanker-C): A twin-seat combat trainer variant. It retains full combat capability while providing additional space for a second pilot or instructor.
  3. Su-27K/Su-33 (Flanker-D): A naval variant designed for carrier-based operations. It features folding wings, reinforced landing gear, and an arrestor hook for carrier landings.
  4. Su-27M/Su-35 (Flanker-E): An advanced variant with improved avionics, radar, and engines. It features thrust-vectoring nozzles for enhanced maneuverability and an increased weapons load.
  5. Su-30 (Flanker-C): A twin-seat multirole variant with advanced avionics and the ability to perform both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It has been widely exported and produced in several sub-variants.
  6. Su-34 (Fullback): A twin-seat, all-weather strike variant designed for ground attack and interdiction missions. It features a side-by-side cockpit and extensive modifications for ground-attack capabilities.
  7. Su-27SM (Flanker-B): An upgraded version of the original Su-27S with modernized avionics, radar, and weapons systems. It offers enhanced combat effectiveness and survivability.
  8. J-11: A Chinese-produced variant based on the Su-27, developed under license and incorporating various indigenous technologies.
Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker)

Military Use and Combat of the Sukhoi Su-27 (Flanker)

The Sukhoi Su-27 has seen extensive military use and combat deployment since its introduction. Designed as an air superiority fighter, it has been utilized by various air forces around the world for both defensive and offensive operations.


The Su-27 is armed with a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds, providing formidable close-range firepower. Its primary air-to-air missiles are the R-27 and R-73. The R-27, known by NATO as the AA-10 Alamo, comes in several variants with different guidance systems, including semi-active radar, infrared, and active radar homing. The R-73, or AA-11 Archer, is a highly maneuverable short-range missile with infrared guidance, renowned for its agility in dogfights.

The aircraft’s hardpoints allow it to carry a variety of ordnance, including air-to-ground missiles, bombs, and rockets. This versatility enables the Su-27 to perform ground attack missions, although its primary role remains air superiority.

Combat Use

The Su-27 has been involved in several conflicts and military operations since its introduction. Its combat effectiveness has been demonstrated in various scenarios, from aerial engagements to providing air cover for ground operations.

Angola and Eritrea

In the late 1990s, Su-27s were used by the Angolan Air Force during the conflict in Angola. The aircraft provided air superiority and engaged in several skirmishes with opposing forces. The Eritrean Air Force also used Su-27s during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War (1998-2000). These aircraft played a critical role in achieving air dominance and protecting Eritrean airspace from Ethiopian attacks.

Russia-Georgia War

The Su-27 saw action during the Russia-Georgia War in 2008. Russian Su-27s were deployed to maintain air superiority and support ground operations. The aircraft provided air cover for Russian troops and engaged in patrol missions to deter Georgian air attacks.

Syrian Civil War

The Su-27 has been deployed in the Syrian Civil War by Russian forces. It has provided air cover for ground operations, engaged in patrol missions, and conducted air-to-air intercepts. The aircraft’s advanced radar and weapons systems have made it a valuable asset in maintaining air superiority in the region.

Export and International Use

The Su-27 has been exported to several countries, including China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Each of these nations has utilized the Su-27 for various military operations, often customizing the aircraft to meet specific operational requirements.


China operates a licensed-produced variant of the Su-27 known as the J-11. This aircraft has been integrated into the Chinese Air Force and Navy, serving as a key component of their air superiority strategy. The J-11 has undergone several upgrades, incorporating indigenous Chinese technologies to enhance its performance and capabilities.


India operates the Su-30MKI, a highly advanced variant of the Su-27. The Su-30MKI features thrust-vectoring engines, advanced avionics, and a diverse weapons suite. It has been a crucial asset for the Indian Air Force, participating in various military exercises and providing air superiority in regional conflicts.


The Su-27’s primary competitors include Western aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and Eurofighter Typhoon. While each of these aircraft has its strengths, the Su-27’s combination of speed, maneuverability, and advanced systems makes it a formidable opponent in air-to-air combat.

F-15 Eagle

The American F-15 Eagle is one of the Su-27’s most direct competitors. Both aircraft offer similar speed and altitude capabilities. However, the Su-27’s superior maneuverability and advanced avionics give it an edge in close-range engagements.

Eurofighter Typhoon

The Eurofighter Typhoon is another advanced air superiority fighter that competes with the Su-27. The Typhoon’s advanced radar and avionics systems are comparable to those of the Su-27, making both aircraft highly capable in modern air combat scenarios.

Current Status

The Su-27 remains in service with several air forces around the world. It has been continuously upgraded to incorporate new technologies and enhance its combat capabilities. The Su-27’s advanced variants, such as the Su-30, Su-35, and Su-34, continue to be produced and deployed, ensuring that the aircraft’s legacy endures in modern military aviation.

The Sukhoi Su-27 is a highly capable air superiority fighter, renowned for its agility, speed, and advanced systems. Its powerful engines, advanced avionics, and versatile armament make it a formidable presence in air combat. The Su-27’s enduring legacy is reflected in its continued service and the development of advanced variants that build upon its proven design. Its ability to engage multiple targets at long range, combined with exceptional maneuverability, ensures its relevance and effectiveness in modern air combat scenarios.

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