The Russian Su-33 aircraft carrier fighter: on the edge of the abyss?

The Su-33 is famous in defense circles for all the wrong reasons. This plane is clearly not an F-35 or a Super Hornet. Here, we break down the fighter’s history and what his long-term future prospects look like: The Su-33 “Flanker-D” is a single-seat, multi-role fighter aircraft powered by two AL-31F afterburner turbofan engines. It has a top speed of 1,430 miles per hour with a range of 1,860 miles and an altitude of 55,800 feet. Adapted from Land-based Su-27the Su-33 is designed specifically to operate on Russia’s only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov.

Su-33, details

Despite its appearance similar to the Su-27, the Su-33 Flanker-D has many practical differences, including reinforced landing gear, more technical landing gear, wing canards, folding wings, surface larger wing and slightly more powerful AL-31F3 engines. . Features such as the landing gear, folding wings, larger wing area, and engine are specifically designed for tighter accommodations and short runways on aircraft carriers. An additional difference is that the Su-33 includes two more hardpoints than the Su-27, bringing the total to twelve.

For armament, the Flanker sports 30mm Gsh-30-1 cannons and can mount a wide range of ammunition on its external hardpoints: R-27R1(ER1), R-27T1(ET1) and R-73E air -air unguided missiles S-8KOM, S-8OM, S-8BM S-13T, S-13OF and S-25-OFM-PU, guided missiles Kh-25MP, Kh-31 and Kh-41, RBK cluster bombs -500 and electronic countermeasures modules.

Yet it is this reality – that the Su-33 really cannot load some of the most important munitions (especially for air-to-ground missions) – that has made the fighter a very limited success at best and a failure at worse. . So, despite being labeled a multirole fighter, the Flanker is actually an air superiority fighter rather than a true multirole.

Su-33 crashes

Although actual use of the Su-33 was limited, the times it was used were tragic.

Since the aircraft entered service in 1999, at least three of the 35 products have been lost in accidents, including one during a summer 2001 airshow in Russia. The integration of the fighter with the Admiral Kuznetsov—its sole purpose—has also faced challenges.

While the Kuznetsov has been deployed in the Mediterranean to extend air support to Bashar al-Assad, a Su-33 crashed during an attempted landing, prompting the Russian military to move the entire fleet ashore.

From Su-33 to MiG-29K

Due to these difficulties, there has been a move within the Russian Navy to replace many of the 30-35 Su33s currently deployed with Mikoyan MiG 29Ks. While these planes aren’t as maneuverable and lack the range of the Su-33, they are much more capable of hitting the ground and sport a greater selection of ranged missiles and guided bombs.

The MiG-29K also carries electronic countermeasures, is equipped with low-observability technology and a relatively more sophisticated radar system intended to facilitate ground strike capabilities. Additionally, the MiG is smaller and lighter, making it more suitable for operating from a carrier. The aircraft is also cheaper to produce with lower maintenance costs.

Su-33 export ideas

In the past, there have been discussions around the export of the Su-33, first to China and then to India, the two countries that operate refitted Soviet-era aircraft carriers. But negotiations with China fell through, with Beijing eventually opting for the Chinese-made Shenyang J-15, a virtual clone of the Su-33.

In the case of India, much like Russia itself, the country decided to select the MiG-29K for its carrier.

Although there is news that the Russian Su-33 fleet is receive upgrades, it is difficult to know with certainty the future of this plane. with Admiral by Kuznetsov perpetual problems and the incoming MiG-29K, this fighter may be sidelined for good.

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was a Civil Resistance Researcher in International Security Studies and Editor of the Fletcher Security Review.

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