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Meet the Su-37 Terminator: Russia’s Forgotten Fighter Jet

Sukhoi Su-37 Flanker-F

In the mid-1990s, after the Cold War, the Russian air force had solutions in search of a problem – too many airplanes and not enough enemies. The Su-37 experimental fighter, nicknamed the Terminator, would be different. It was a technology demonstrator that led to the development of other later warplanes.

After the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia canceled some fighter programs due to expense and lack of need and because of the overall near-death of the defense industry, but the Su-37 lived on to exhibit innovations that were ahead of its time.

The Terminator Forged Ahead

Russia believed it could export the Su-27 to pay for the Su-37, and this gambit was moderately successful as China and Vietnam placed some orders. This enabled the Terminator to proceed. By 1995, Russia had an airframe that they sent to Sukhoi’s experimental design plant to install the thrust vectoring nozzles. In 1996, the Su-37 made its first flight.


As a result, the single-seat Su-37 had three-dimensional thrust vectoring engines, later incorporated into future fighters. This gave it ample maneuverability and a high angle of attack. Designers wavered on the expense of the two engines and ultimately went with the cheaper and less robust AL-31FP. But they didn’t scrimp on the digital fly-by-wire system for automated thrust vectoring – one of the early innovations that set the Su-37 apart. If the fighter ever spiraled out of control or stalled, it could quickly recover and create another agile move.


The Doppler phased array radar, rearward facing radar, and fire control system were powerful enough to allow the Terminator to track up to 20 targets at one time and fire missiles at eight of them. This enabled the Terminator to be a multi-role fighter able to blast enemy airplanes or fire ground-to-surface missiles. Pilots liked its air superiority dogfighting skills.


The Su-37 had 12 hardpoints to haul 17,600 pounds of weapons. It could “carry a mix of short-range R-73E and R-77 missiles for air combat and various infrared and radar homing missiles for ground attack role,” according to Military Today. A 30mm cannon was also on board in addition to an electronic warfare pod.


The cockpit was pilot-friendly with four liquid crystal displays for better situational awareness. It was different from other Russian airplanes due to its short-travel control stick rather than a center stick.

The top speed of the experimental airplane was 1,500 miles per hour. The range was 2,300 miles with a ceiling of 59,000 feet.


The Su-37 excelled and wowed the crowd at air shows. described one exhibition flight in 1996 at the Farnborough expo. “The pilot first demonstrated a somersault aerobatics [360-degree turn in the symmetry plane]. In other words, a dead loop of small radius, performed at low speed.

Later it received the name ‘Frolova Chakra.’ However, the old figures performed by the Su-37 were like new. For example, when performing the ‘cobra’ he went to an angle of attack of more than 150 degrees and was in this position for 3-4 seconds.”

Despite the innovations, only two pre-production Su-37s were ever built, even though they were a hit at air shows.

In 2002, an Su-37 crashed due to faulty flight controls, and the Russian air force gave up on the program. But you have to give the Su-37 some credit. Innovations on the airplane paved the way for better research and development. It helped Russia focus more on aerial technology and fighter maneuverability after the Cold War when money and resources were tight.

The Su-37 was thus a stepping stone toward a better future for the Russian air force.

Bonus: Su-27 Photo Essay


Su-27 serving in the Ukrainian Air Force. Image: Creative Commons/Pavel Vanka.

Su-27 Flanker

Su-27 Flanker. Image Credit: Creative Commons.


Image: Creative Commons.

Su-27 Russian Knights

Russian Knights paying tribute to Igor Tkachenko, leader of the group who died during practice a week earlier.

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.