Sukhoi’s main factory in Komsomolsk-upon-Amur (KAZ) has completed shipments under the Russian defense ministry orders for the Su-27SM3 single-seat multirole fighter, representing the last production variant of the baseline Su-27, NATO codenamed “Flanker.” Speaking to journalists on February 26, the factory’s general director, Alexander Pekarsh, said that the Sukhoi design bureau and KAZ commenced work on this project in the early 2000s. “Since then we have supplied the customer with a quantity of such aircraft enough to equip two air regiments. In the course of that effort, the baseline model has been reworked into a much more capable machine. We have recently completed deliveries from the final order for 10 aircraft. There were four shipments in 2017 and six in 2018.”
First flown in 2008, the SM3 represented a non-exportable “Flanker” version brought to life out of the Kremlin’s desire to support KAZ (then known as KnAAPO, for Komsomolsk-upon-Amur Aircraft Production Association) at a time when the factory was converting from the Classic (Su-27) to the Advanced (Su-35) “Flanker.” The Su-27SM3 was viewed as an interim model using the older airframe with newer onboard systems and mission equipment. KAZ had large stocks of “Flanker” airframe parts made for China, which were not procured by the intended customer as a result of Beijing’s decision not to firm up an option for 105 Su-27SKs, having already completed the assembly of 95 such aircraft (as the J-11) under license at Shenyang.
Placed in 2009, the Russian MoD’s first order for 12 Su-27SM3s helped the industry to utilize the airframe stocks. The last delivery of this order took place in December 2011. Additionally, the customer made use of two experimental aircraft that industry had assembled for testing to conduct operational trials and crew conversion.
The next phase was an attempt to upgrade in-service Su-27P/S interceptors into the SM3 standard with a lifetime extension to 40 calendar years. In 2012 industry reworked two aircraft for flight tests and operational trials, which took three years to complete. Soon after, a framework agreement was reached covering the upgrade of 36 in-service “Flankers” aircraft in 2016-2020.
For a variety of reasons, however, the customer provided only 10 Su-27P/S aircraft in 2015. After rework at the factory, four of them returned to service in 2017. The remainder followed in 2018, three in October and the rest in December. Seemingly, the customer had lost interest in the upgrade program. Today, all 22 Su-27SM3s received under the 2009 and 2015 contracts are based at Krymsk, while operable prototypes are being used for various tests and crew training at three other locations. In addition to various airshows inside Russia, the Su-27SM had a special presentation to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in June 2017, when he visited Khmeimeem AFB, the primary location of the Russian expedition force in Syria.
Outwardly, the SM3 version differs from the baseline Su-27 in having an additional radio antenna behind the canopy. On its wingtips it can carry the SAP-518 ECM containers belonging to the Khibiny family. Meanwhile, up to 80 percent of the mission equipment has been changed. Four color MFDs replace 13 dial instruments in the cockpit. Technology insertions into the N-001V radar and SUV-27 fire control system enable employment of the RVV-SD medium-range air-to-air missile. Coupled with a secure datalink for protected information exchange with a command post and aircraft in a group, this increases the aircraft efficiency against aerial targets by two to three times.
While the Classic “Flanker” is primarily an interceptor and air superiority fighter, the Su-27SM3 is a multirole aircraft. Against ground targets, it can use S-25LD, Kh-29T/L, Kh-31P, Kh-25MP, and Kh-59M missiles, and KAB-500 series guided bombs. The airframe is strengthened for a three-tonne increase in all-up weight, to 32 tonnes (70,547 pounds) including 8 tonnes (17,637 pounds) of weapons load. To compensate for the weight increase, the AL-31F engine of the classic “Flanker” is replaced by the AL-31F-М1 producing 132.4 kN (29,760 pounds) thrust compared with 125.6 kN (28,220 pounds). The -M1A features digital control, higher gas temperatures and a new high-pressure compressor for a 6 percent increase in mass flow.