Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA March-April 2017 Contents 28 DefenceReviewAsia | MARCH/APRIL 2017
aircraft, of which 42 were lost in accidents during
sixteen years of service (1975-1991). Statistics
available for the first thirteen years give the number of
flights at 71,733 and flight time at 24,302 hours.
In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union began
developing marinised versions of land-based
supersonic fighters suitable for the STOBAR
concept. Work on navalised MiG-29 and Su-27
commenced in 1982, when several airframes
were turned into experimental aircraft to develop
techniques for carrier operations. These made use
of a special shore-based facility built at the Saki
aerodrome in Crimea. It bore some resemblance to a
flight deck with two ski-jumps, one set at an angle of
8.5 degrees and another at 14.3 degrees.
Expecting that training of STOBAR fighter pilots for
carrier operations would prove a long and complex
exercise, in 1986 the Soviet Navy established the
100th aviation regiment on factory-standard Su-27
and MiG-29. Later, this Saki-based unit transited to
navalised versions of the aforementioned types.
For training of naval pilots in the techniques of
landing on the carrier, Sukhoi developed a simple
and forgiving aircraft. The Su-25UTG is an unarmed
navalised version of the Su-25UB twin seat attack
aircraft with takeoff weight reduced to 13 tonnes.
One experimental and twelve deliverable aircraft
were assembled in 1988-1991. Some remain in
service and continue flying from Kuznetsov. They
proved instrumental in training personnel of the
279th aviation regiment at Severomorsk-3 AFB. This
unit reported having qualified ten pilots in carrier
operations by 1995.
Two experimental prototypes of the MiG-29K
single seat multirole fighter (company's designation
Item 9-31) were built in 1988-1990. They featured
a larger wing (its area increased from 38 to 42
square metres), stronger undercarriage and other
design changes necessary for the naval application.
Both prototypes took part in Kuznetsov sea trials.
They began in earnest on 1 November 1989, when
a Su-27K, a Su-25UTG and a MiG-29K made their
first landings on the carrier. About 450 flights and
80 carrier landings were made before the MiG-29K
program was cancelled in 1992.
A navy version of the Flanker was initially referred to
as the Sukhoi Su-27K, but formally accepted into
service in August 1998 as the Su-33. The program
commenced in 1982 when several Su-27 prototypes
were fitted with arrestor hooks for work at Saki.
An experimental prototype of the Su-27K first
flew in 1987. It was followed by an initial batch
of seven aircraft in 1990. Serial production
commenced in 1992. The navy received 26 Su-
27Ks. These airframes remain the backbone of
Kuznetsov's air wing. Sukhoi built a Su-27KUB
twin seat aircraft (tandem layout), which landed
on the carrier in October 1999. This ambitious
program did not go forward.
The navalised Flanker features strengthened
landing gear for tougher touchdowns and an arrestor
hook in the tail. Outwardly, the Su-27K differs from
the original Flanker in having canards (fore-planes)
with a span of 6.4 metres and an area of 3 square
metres. Canards increase lift at high angles of attack
and add aerodynamic instability that is managed by
the airplane's fly-by-wire flight control system. Thus,
the navalised version received a distinctive layout,
which Sukhoi calls "integral unstable tri-plane".
Later, this aerodynamic layout was employed on
the customised Indian Su-30MKI, a land-based
multirole fighter. 272 were built for the primary foreign
The Su-33 advertised maximum payload capability
on twelve hard points is 6.5 tonnes, but this is more
to do with aerodrome operations. When flying from
Kuznetsov, the airplane can take to the air from the
ship's two "short-start" positions with an all-up weight
of 25-28 tonnes. This effectively confines the jet's
functionality to air-defense missions.
Trials performed on the carrier steaming at 7 knots
have enabled the aircraft developers to raise the
weight limitation to 29.5 tonnes. In practical terms,
this means that the Su-33 can perform a takeoff
with full fuel tanks and four air-to-air missiles. With
full inner tanks and twelve air-to-air missiles the
weight rises to 32 tonnes. In this configuration, the
Su-33 can get airborne only from the third starting
position on Kuznetsov's flight deck, provided the ship
develops 15 knots or above.
Final approach is made at 240km/h, but the pilots
often keep a higher speed to decrease the angle of
attack to a point when they can attain a good view of
the flight deck.
The naval version of the Flanker inherited the
RLPK-27 (N-001K Mech) radar able to detect aerial
targets at a maximum distance of 80-100km, track
Credit: V Karnozov
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