Warplanes: Su-27 Survives On Upgrades

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January 4, 2012: Despite being in service for 25 years, the Su-27 continues to appear in updated models. The most recent one is the Su-27SM(3). The Russian Air Force received a dozen of these in 2011. The SM(3) version has more powerful and durable AL-31M1 engines and a reinforced airframe that enables the aircraft to take off with three more tons of fuel or weapons. There were also updated electronics and a "glass" (full of touch screens) cockpit. Russia considers the Su-27SM(3) twice as capable as the original model, the Su-27S, in air-to-air combat and three times as effective in ground attack.

Things are not doing so well with existing Su-27s. Last year, Russia grounded all of its Su-27s. This was necessary until it could be determined what caused one to crash on January 14th, 30 kilometers from its airbase at Dzemga (in the Far East). The pilot died in the crash, but the flight recorder was recovered. A year earlier, two Su-27s crashed. The Su-27 entered service in the 1980s and some of them are showing their age. It's still a first line fighter, but only as long as updated models can be developed and built. Russia's Sukhoi aircraft company has sold over a billion dollars' worth of these aircraft (plus components and technical services for them) a year for the last few years. Sukhoi mainly supplies Su-27/30 jet fighters to India, China, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Algeria. The 33 ton Su-27 is similar to the U.S. F-15 but costs over a third less.

Developed near the end of the Cold War, the aircraft is one of the best fighters Russia has ever produced. The government helped keep Sukhoi alive during the 1990s and even supplied money for development of an improved version of the Su-27 (the Su-30). This proved to be an outstanding aircraft and is the main one Sukhoi produces. There are now several Su-30 variants and major upgrades. While only about 700 Su-27s were produced (mostly between 1984, when it entered service, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991), adding Su-30 production and you have over 1,000 aircraft (including license built ones in China and India).

 


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