Su-33 Navy Flanker-D – Russian 4 generation fighter jet [review]

The Sukhoi Su-33 [NATO code name: Flanker-D] is a variant of the Sukhoi Su-27 air superiority fighter, which was specially designed for use on aircraft carriers.


The development began in 1971 in what was then the Soviet Union. Within ten years, three variants of the aircraft were developed at OKB Suchoi, which were planned for use on aircraft carriers [projects 1160 and 1153]. These projects provided for the use of a catapult for take-off and a safety rope for landing. From 1982, work continued on a carrier-based version of the Su-27, which was designed for use on the aircraft carriers of Project 1143.5, today’s Admiral Kuznetsov [ex. Tbilisi] and today’s Chinese Liaoning [ex. Varyag, ex. Riga], was intended. For these two aircraft carriers, a ski jump deck was provided instead of catapults.

For test purposes, the OKBs Sukhoi and Mikojan-Gurewitsch aircraft were used as “flying laboratories” [LL]. Suchoi built such a test aircraft, called T-10-3, with which the first attempts on the ground to take off from a ski jump deck and land with the help of hooks and rope were carried out in the years 1982-1983. The first take-off from a ski jump deck took place on August 28, 1982. Another test aircraft was built in 1984: the T-10-25. This machine landed on August 30, 1984 or took off for the first time on September 3, 1984 from the new ski jump “by ship type”.

1986 to 1987 two prototypes of the Su-27K [internal designations: T-10K-1 and T-10K-2] were built. The first take-off took place on December 22, 1987 with the T-10K-1. On November 1, 1989, the first landing of the T-10K-2 on the aircraft carrier Tbilisi [today: Admiral Kuznetsov] followed.

From 1989 the construction of a small series of Su-27K began in the Komsomolsk-na-Amurje plant. The first production machine flew on February 17, 1990. The state tests were carried out between 1991 and 1994. In April 1993 the first copies of the carrier-based fighter were handed over to the pilots of the 279th OKIAP [Independent Airborne Fighter Regiment] of the Northern Fleet. In August 1994 the unit had 24 series machines. On October 31, 1998, by presidential decree, the Su-27K was accepted into the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation under the designation Su-33.

Su-33 Navy Flanker-D - Russian 4 generation fighter jet [review]
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Since the negotiations with the People’s Republic of China about an export failed and the Indian Navy used MiG-29K aircraft for its aircraft carrier Vikramaditya, it was decided in 2009 to decommission the Su-33 for cost reasons. Although the Su-33 [as of June 2015] is technically state-of-the-art, the low number of 24 aircraft makes it inefficient to keep the Su-33 in operation and to allocate the spare parts required for maintenance work to produce.

In 2017 it was finally decided to modernize the Su-33 fleet after all. The focus here was on the installation of new navigation systems including radar and devices for electronic countermeasures and the use of new weapons. According to Russian information, the modernized aircraft correspond to the status of the Su-27SM and the Su-30SM. By 2019, 20 Su-33s had been modernized to this stand.


The only combat missions of the Su-33 so far took place as part of the Russian military operation in Syria. In October 2016, the Admiral Kuznetsov ran from Severomorsk to Tartus with the carrier aircraft MiG-29K and Su-33. Arrived off the Syrian coast, the carrier’s warplanes attacked ground targets in Syria. After a MiG-29K and a Su-33 crashed near the carrier during landing and take-off maneuvers, the carrier-based combat aircraft were transferred to the Hmeimim military airfield for further missions. During the two-month deployment, the MiG-29 and Su-33 reportedly carried out 420 attacks on targets in Syria.

Technical specifications

Length21.19 m
Span14.70 m
7.40 m (folded up)
Wing area67.84 m²
Wing extension3.48
Wing loadingminimum (empty weight): 297 kg / m²
nominal (normal take-off weight): 483 kg / m²
maximum (max. take-off weight): 532 kg / m²
Height5.93 m
Empty weight18,400 kg
Normal takeoff weight29,940 kg
Max. takeoff weight33,000 kg
Top speed2,300 km / h or Mach 2.17 (over 10 km)
1,396 km / h or Mach 1.14 (at sea level)
Landing speed240 km/h
Service ceiling approx.17,000 m
Climb rate230 m/s
Max. Range approx.3,000 km
Start distance100-195 m (with ski jump)
Landing distance90 m (intercepted)
Enginestwo Saturn / Ljulka AL-31F turbofan engines
Thrustwith afterburner: 122.58 kN
without afterburner: 74.50 kN
Thrust to weight ratiomaximum (empty weight): 1.36
nominal (normal takeoff mass): 0.83
minimum (max.starting mass): 0.76

Su-33 KUB

The project of a two-seat training aircraft began under the designation SU-27KU; as with the Su-27K, the designation was later changed to Su-33. Based on the experience of the Sukhoi design office with the T-10U-2, a modified Su-27UB, with which ramp starts and catch hook landings were tested in Saki, the tandem arrangement of student pilots and flight instructors for a training aircraft for carrier landings was not considered satisfactory. In the case of a tandem arrangement, the flight instructor does not have a sufficient view of the carrier deck on the final approach. Due to the difference in height of the seat arrangement, the viewing angle for the visual glide path marker of the aircraft carrier is no longer correct for the flight instructor.

So Sukhoi decided to use assemblies from the ongoing development of the Su-34 and decided to arrange the seats next to each other for the Su-33KUB. The Su-27K prototype T-10K-4 [blue 59] was therefore converted to the Su-27KUB [T-10KUB-1]. A dynamic load cell was also built [T-10KUB-0]. Apart from the newly designed front fuselage, the Su-27KUB / Su-33KUB differs from the single-seater in the following points: by widening the cockpit and the aerodynamic transition behind it, the capacity of the first fuselage tank has been significantly increased. The wingspan was increased so that the heavier Su-33KUB could maintain the same take-off and landing speeds as the Su-33. The Su-33KUB’s nose flap, aileron and landing flap system has been optimized. The hinges for folding up the wings are now further out. With the wings folded up, the wingspan of the wings is the same as the wingspan of the elevator; therefore, the Su-33KUB has no fold-up elevators. The Su-33KUB has thrust vector control. As with the Su-34, entry into the cockpit is through the nose gear shaft.

Su-33 Navy Flanker-D - Russian 4 generation fighter jet [review]
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The entry through the nose gear shaft turned out to be too cumbersome when the crew was wearing protective clothing for a ditching. For this reason, entry into the second prototype was already planned in the conventional way through an opening one-piece cockpit hood [comparable to that of a Hawker-Hunter trainer]. Various flights were carried out with the Su-33KUB. However, since no success can be seen in a possible export to India or China and the Russian Navy will probably rely on the MiG-29K in the future, the Su-33KUB program was discontinued. The first prototype was stored and the second prototype [T-10KUB-2] was not completed. The Su-33KUB was not just a training aircraft, but a fully combat-capable aircraft for use as a fighter, ground attack aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft and as a tanker.

A version with a built-in hose funnel was also planned; this would have made it possible to install a 3000 l additional tank in addition to two 2000 l additional tanks under the wings instead of the UPAZ refueling container. With this, the Su-33KUB could have refueled several Su-33s. A version with three interference containers as a counterpart to the F / A-18G Growler was also proposed.


Fixed armament in the bow
1 × 30-mm automatic cannon Grjasew-Schipunow GSch-301 (9A-4071K) with up to 150 rounds of ammunition

Gun loading of 6,500 kg at 12 underwing load stations

Air-to-air guided missiles
6 × R-27ER / EM / ET (AA-10C Alamo) – infrared / radar guided medium-range air-to-air missiles
6 × R-27R / T (AA-10A / B Alamo) – infrared / radar controlled medium-range air-to-air missiles
6 × R-73E (AA-11 Archer) – infrared-guided short-range air-to-air missiles

Free-fall air-to-ground bombs
2-6 × FAB-500M-54 (500 kg free-fall bomb)
28 × FAB-250 (250 kg free fall bomb)
28 × FAB-100 (100 kg free fall bomb)

Unguided air-to-surface missiles
4 × B-8M1 missile launch containers with 20 unguided air-to-ground missiles, type S-8; Caliber 80 mm
4 × B-13L missile launch containers with 5 unguided air-to-surface missiles S-13 each; 122 mm
4 × O-25 missile launch containers, each with an unguided air-to-surface missile S-25; 340 mm

External containers at the wing tips
2 × jamming container KNIRTI L-175W “Chibiny”

Air refueling tanks
1 × Zvezda UPAS-1 Sakhalin

External containers only for Su-33KUB, planned Su-33KUB versions
1 × Tekon / Elektron APK-9 radio data transmission container as a relay for the steering signals for the Ch-29, Ch-59 and KAB-500Kr
1 × UOMZ Sapsan (electro-optical target lighting container)
1 × jam container KNIRTI SAP-14


Communication and location electronics as well as the interfaces to the weapons carried are designed for day and night operations in the maritime theater of war.

Self-defense systems

Decoys dispenser: Between the two engines there are two larger batteries APP 50A decoys launcher for 14 blocks of 3 × 50 mm decoys each and in the middle of the bead of the tail skid a Gorizont APP 50MA decoy launcher (rectangular container for 12 each × 50 mm heat flare decoys) installed. There are a total of 96 decoy cartridges.


More Russian fighters: Su-30, Su-34, Su-35, MiG-35, Su-57