Explained, Russia’s Su-37 Experimental Fighter Jet: The Sukhoi Su-37 “Terminator” was a single-seat, heavyweight, air superiority fighter prototype first produced in 1995 and flown in 1996.
The prototype was never meant to enter serial production and was instead used to demonstrate new technologies to be incorporated into an upgraded variant of the Su-27 known as the Su-27M.
The Su-37: The Key Details
The story of the Su-37 is an interesting one, reflecting major currents in Russian history following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
As Russia faced a range of economic and political crises throughout the 1990’s, it was determined that several classes of combat jets then under development would need to be canceled. Some of these were quite advanced, such as the MiG-31M Foxhound heavy interceptor (cancelled at the prototype stage) and MiG 1.44 stealth fighter (originally delayed and then later canceled). Indeed, the Su-27M was the least advanced and least costly of all the major programs, allowing it to survive expenditure cuts.
Moreover, an upgraded Su-27M was looked on with great export potential, as the Su-27 had a strong history in this area. In fact, Sukhoi financed the development of the Su-37 prototype itself through exports of the Su-27 to the Chinese and Vietnamese markets.
The fighter’s most notable feature was its introduction of thrust-vectoring engines, increasing maneuverability and allowing the jet to recover from spins and stalls. Moreover, this thrust vectoring system was connected to the pilot digitally through new fly-by-wire technology, a notable change.
Su-37: Weapons and Engines
In terms of armaments, the Su-37 could be outfitted with up to 14 air-to-air missiles and almost 18,000 pounds of ordnance. It featured twelve external hardpoints for air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, bombs, rockets, and electronic countermeasure (ECM) pods, and came equipped with a Gsh-301 30-millimeter gun.
Its dual engines were originally planned to be new Saturn AL-37FU turbofans, with some reporting suggesting that these were cancelled due to slow-downs in engine development following the Soviet collapse. Yet it is still unclear if the Su-37 did end up using these upgraded engines or was forced to rely on the less powerful AL-31P—essentially identical to the AL-31F used on the Su-27, but with thrust vectoring nozzles installed.
All reports, however, indicate a maximum speed of around 1,500 miles per hour, a range of roughly 2,300 miles, and an altitude of 59,000 feet.
Despite the passage of time since development began in the mid-1990s, the new technologies associated with the Su-37 eventually entered service in 2014. It was in that year that the Russian Air Force introduced the Su-35 (read: the original Su-27M) as part of the Russian state’s massive military modernization program.
Developments associated with the Su-37 added a lot to the Su-35, including all-weather capabilities and radar able to simultaneously surveil airspace and land. Additionally, the combination of radar and AMS R-77 BVR upgrades allow the Su-35 to launch on targets as far as 108 miles away.
Though the sensor suite featured in the Su-37 prototype never made it entirely into the Su-35, the ability to simultaneously track sixteen targets and engage eight was a development borne largely of the Su-37 program.
Though the Su-37 never saw combat, this was never the intention of its developers.
Instead, it was a trial machine for an enhanced Su-27, something that would come to fruition almost twenty years following the launch of the Su-37 program.
Expert Biography: Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.
June 7, 2022 at 6:15 pm
Meh. Russkies build garbage.
June 8, 2022 at 9:29 am
This must be the embodiment of “Firefox,” a Russian (really soviet) fighter which is flown by thought. The thought, however, must be in Russian which Clint Eastwood learned to his chagrin when he was trying to steal one from the Soviets.