Photographs have recently emerged showing continuing progress made in efforts to upgrade the Russian Navy’s fleet of Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-based fighters. Imagery published on social media suggests that at least six aircraft have received the upgrades.
It is understood that the increased tempo of the upgrade work is associated with the forthcoming combat deployment of the Russian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, to the Eastern Mediterranean. Embarking an air wing comprising Su-33s as well as multi-role MiG-29KR/KUBR fighters and various helicopters, the vessel will support Moscow’s ongoing campaign in Syria.
According to sources in Russia, the Ministry of Defense plans to upgrade a total of 10 to 12 Su-33s to the latest standard. Work is being carried out at Zhukovsky, alongside other repairs.
The centerpiece of the upgrade is installation of the Gefest SVP-24 system, as employed in the same company’s previous upgrade of Su-24 strike fighters and Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers. Both these two types have also been employed in combat over Syria with the SVP-24 equipment installed.
Introduction of the SVP-24 (the ‘SVP’ acronym denotes ‘specialized computing subsystem’) significantly increases the accuracy of the aircraft’s free-fall bombing.
Prior to introduction of the SVP-24, the Su-33 was used exclusively as an air superiority fighter. However, the aircraft does have a latent capability to deliver unguided air-to-ground weaponry, and it seems that the aircraft will be used as a free-fall bomber over Syria.
In the September issue of Combat Aircraft, Russian aerospace expert Piotr Butoswki provides a full description of the naval ‘Flanker’, including the following details of its fire-control and weapon systems:
The S-27K fire-control system is slightly modified when compared with the Su-27’s S-27 (most differences relate to the software) and combines the RLPK-27K (N001K) radar and OEPS-27K electro-optical system with increased-range OLS-27K (izdeliye 46Sh) infra-red search and track. The navigation system has been supplemented with the Rezistor-K42-Bort system that allows fully automatic, command controlled or manually controlled landing approaches on the aircraft carrier. Up to 6,500kg (14,330lb) of weapons and stores can be carried on 12 hardpoints. Weapon options are generally similar to those of the Su-27 and include R-27/R-27E (AA-10 ‘Alamo’) medium-/extended-range AAMs and R-73 (AA-11 ‘Archer’) short-range AAMs. The single GSh-30-1 fixed gun is retained.
While a total of 26 Su-33s were delivered to the Russian Navy in 1993-96, currently a reported 21 Su-33s serve within the only operational unit, the 279th Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment (Korabelnyi Istrebitelnyi Aviatsionnyi Polk, KIAP) of the Northern Fleet at Severomorsk-3 air base; a third of the fighters are no longer airworthy.
It is reported that all available modernized Su-33s — perhaps six to eight aircraft — will be part of the Admiral Kuznetsov air group during its deployment in the Mediterranean.
Other aircraft confirmed as operating from the Admiral Kuznetsov in recent weeks include single-seat MiG-29KR fighters ‘31 Blue’, ‘38 Blue’ and ‘48 Blue’ and two-seat MiG-29KUBRs ‘50 Blue’ and ‘53 Blue’.