The 20th century saw the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and with it the rise, fall, and rebirth of Russian aviation. Soviet/Russian jets have long been a fixture military aviation, and look set to remain so. Let’s have a look at some of the best Russian fighter jets produced by the former Soviet machine.
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The arms race that resulted from Cold War tensions between the United States and NATO versus the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact created an environment in which fighter jets were used for PR wars as much as actual combat.
In building their fighter jets Russian aeronautics experts were always concerned with what the US and its allies were doing, and how they could best counter them. This led to a great deal of military spending on the part of both nations.
It has been argued that the increased military spending by the United States (for which it now, ironically, faces its own vast financial deficits) helped expedite the Soviet Union’s economic collapse as they attempted to keep up.
Much of that military spending went into fighter jets, especially those produced by the two companies that dominated Soviet aviation, continue to rule Russian aeronautics, and account for our entire list, Sukhoi and MiG.
The Dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 slowed military exports, including fighter jets. Russia has revived its aviation industry, however, being a huge seller to China and former Soviet nations while itself building one of the strongest air forces in the world.
1. Sukhoi Su-24
First introduced to the Soviet Air Forces in 1974, the Su-24 was designed as a supersonic jet that could be used in all weather conditions. It boasts a twin-engine, variable-sweep wing design as well as a twin-seat arrangement (with seats side by side) for two pilots.
It has seen extensive combat usage during its life span, with notable engagements being its use on the Soviet side of the Soviet-Afghan War as well as the Russian side of the First Chechen War.
It has remained in service with the Russian Air Force since 1991, as well as other former Soviet air forces, including that of Ukraine and Azerbaijan. It is eventually intended to be phased out completely in favor of another Sukhoi craft, the Su-35.
2. Sukhoi Su-25
A follow-up to the Su-24, the Su-25 offered much of the same with a few improvements. The fighter jet was first introduced to the Soviet Air Forces as a prototype in 1975, received testing in 1978 in Tbilisi, and entered active service in 1981.
As with its predecessor, the Su-25 has seen its fair share of active usage. It was used extensively in the Soviet-Afghan War, launching more than a hundred missile strikes. It was also used on the Iraqi side of the Iran-Iraq War, where they were extremely effective, losing only one craft.
The 90s once again saw the Iraqi Air Force employ the Su-25 against Coalition forces during the Gulf War. Russia, meanwhile, employed the Su-25 in hundreds of engagements against Chechen Separatists in the 90s and 00s during the First and Second Chechen Wars.
3. Sukhoi Su-27
First introduced in 1985, this entry into the Su line of fighter jets was sold to China, where it was licensed and developed into the Shenyang J-11, which has remained in service since 1999.
Ukraine also inherited Su-27s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, they did not choose to modernize the craft for contemporary use, and have largely retired the craft.
Russia, meanwhile, has continued to use the craft regularly. It was deployed during a conflict with Georgia in 1992. Russia has used a modernized version of the craft, the Su-27SM3, in its military intervention in the Syrian Civil War.
4. Sukhoi Su-30
This offering from Sukhoi was developed in the late 1980s during the last years of the Soviet Union, and eventually entered service after the Dissolution of the USSR as part of the Russian Air Force.
In 1997, a variant, the Su-30MKK was produced for the Chinese use in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. Another variant, the Su-MKM, was produced for Malaysia, while another, the Su-30KI, was developed for use by the Indian Air Force.
Russia has continued to use the Su-30 in military active use, notably in 2015 during its aforementioned intervention in the Syrian Civil War, conducting strikes designed to assist Bashar al-Assad.
5. Sukhoi Su-34
This craft first flew as a prototype in 1990, just a year before the Dissolution of the USSR, the breakup of which led to development being delayed for a long period of time. The Su-34 made its debut in the Russian Air Force in 2014.
This is yet another craft that has seen usage on the Syrian/Russian side of the Syrian Civil War. It has also been employed against ISIS, with reports of strikes in the Hama region.
Unlike the Su-27, the Su-24 has not seen as much operation by foreign entities. However, Algeria has recently been rumored to have become the first foreign buyer and operator of the Su-34, though this has not been confirmed.
6. Sukhoi Su-35
Another example of a late-80s fighter jet developed by Sukhoi during the final years of the Soviet Union, this fourth-generation jet saw its first use in 2014, more than 15 years after it was first conceived.
As with other Su fighter jets, the Su-35 has been used for active combat during Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War. The Russian Air Force has currently stationed several Su-35’s at Khmeimim Air Base in Syria.
Despite its developmental delays, the Su-35 has gone on to be exported to several air forces around the world, with Algeria, Indonesia, and China all ordering it.
7. Sukhoi Su-57
Old rivalries die hard, and the United States and Russia remain in a military arms race, with the development of fifth-generation fighter jets being a key front in that competition.
Our final Sukhoi fighter jet is intended to be Russia’s answer to the United States Air Force’s highly-touted fifth-generation aircraft, the Su-57 will be the first Russian aircraft to have stealth capabilities. It will also feature a great deal of speed and maneuverability.
The aircraft was first made ready for the Russian government in 2019. It is set to make its first flight as an active fighter jet in the Russian Air Force in 2020.
8. Mikoyan MiG-29
We now move to the other big name in Russian aeronautics, Mikoyan MiG. In keeping with the theme of competition between the US and USSR/Russia, the MiG-29s were originally developed in the late 70s and introduced in 1982 as a counterpoint to America’s F-16s.
These Soviet fighter jets were originally designed primarily with air superiority in mind. However, the Soviet Air Forces adapted them to be used as multirole fighters that could also be used to conduct military strikes.
Ukraine inherited dozens of MiG-29s after the Dissolution of the USSR, and has employed them against Russian Separatists during the ongoing War in Donbass, which has seen some Ukrainian MiG-29s shot down in combat.
9. Mikoyan MiG-31
First introduced in 1981, the MiG-31 has the chance to be one of the longest-lasting fighter jets in the world given the fact that the Russian military has stated they envision them remaining in use into the 2030s.
The MiG-31 is able to boast several superlatives, including reports of it being among the fastest fighter jets in the world as well as one of the only ones to be able to fire long-range air-to-air missiles.
Unlike other MiG craft on this list, the MiG-31 has not seen a great deal of exportation. Kazakhstan is the only other military confirmed to use them. Syria has attempted to purchase them in the past, but socio-economic and political factors have reportedly caused these sales to stall.
10. Mikoyan MiG-35
One of the most recent entries into the Russian Air Force’s arsenal, the MiG-35 was first introduced in 2007 at the Aero India air show, and entered active service in 2019.
Both a single as well as a two-seat version are in use. The MiG-25 is seen as a huge upgrade over the MiG-31, with its precision-targeting of particular note. In addition, it is compatible with AESA radar.
The MiG-35 is a twin engine fighter jet, being powered by two FADEC RD-33MK engines. Due to its recency, it has not seen combat or been exported for use by other countries, though Egypt has shown interest in the past.
11. Mikoyan MiG-17
Let’s close our look at Russian fighter jets with a real blast from the past. First introduced in 1952, it saw an extensive operational history in the Soviet, Chinese and, perhaps most notably, Vietnamese Air Forces.
The Vietnam War saw some of the MiG-17s most famous combat usage, with it being flown by North Vietnamese forces against the United States Air Force in engagements throughout the war.
Though the United States Air Force employed fighters that were far more recent and advanced, the North Vietnamese were still able to achieve some success with their MiG-17s. Chinese pilots were also able to use them effectively.