Russia's 5 Most Dangerous Warplanes

A look at Russia's most dangerous fighter jets and bombers today.

When it comes to air power, it’s no secret that the United States and the West have often held an edge over Russia.

This dates at least as far back to World War II, when the United States and Britain were allied with Russia. While Russia supplied much of the manpower that ultimately defeated Nazi Germany, it was the United States and UK that took the lead in the strategic bombing campaigns against Germany. These trends largely continued during the Cold War, when the Warsaw Pact was numerically superior to NATO but the latter held the technological advantage, including in terms of aircraft. And even today, Russia’s Air Force doesn’t yet boast anything comparable to the latest American fifth-generation fighter jets like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The fact that Russia hasn’t reached parity with the most advanced air force in the world should not detract from the fact that Moscow has produced some formidable aircraft over the years. Moreover, Moscow has proved willing to sell its aircraft to nations both large and small that the United States and Europe have shunned. And since many countries around the world don’t have a need for the most advanced technologies that Western planes boast, Russian aircraft often is an attractive, cheaper alternative to purchasing planes from the United States or European powers.

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As a result, many air forces around the world are built around Soviet and Russian-made planes, or derivatives from them. And, with Russia undertaking a massive military modernization program in the coming years, this is likely to be true to a large extent for decades to come (albeit, Russia is likely to face greater competition from emerging defense exporters like China).  

As such, any serious observer of air power around the world must have an appreciation of Russia’s top military planes. Here are five of the most dangerous ones:

Sukhoi Su-27

Sukhoi’s Su-27 (NATO reporting name “Flanker”) was the Soviet’s answer effort to then-new American aircraft like the F-15 and F-16. The plane conducted its maiden flight in the late 1970s and was introduced into service in the Soviet Air Force in 1985.

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The Su-27 is primarily intended for air superiority missions and boasts a combat radius of 750 km. While outmatched by its NATO competitors in this area, the Flanker jumps ahead of the F-16 and F/A-18 in terms of speed, hitting 2,525 km/hour (compared to the F-16’s 2,200 km/hour and the F/A-18’s 1,900 km/hour).

The Su-27 can carry a range of air-to-air weapons including the R-27R1, a versatile medium-range missile with semi-active radar homing warheads. The Flanker airframe has also been repeatedly refitted to take on new roles. For example, the Su-34 “Fullback” variant fills the fighter-bomber niche, boasting an array of air-to-ground and anti-ship weapons. A navalized Flanker variant also exists, the Su-33 “Flanker-D,” which is used aboard Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov carrier.

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A host of air forces around the world fly the Su-27 or their derivatives. Both India and China have purchased the Su-27 as well as secured licenses to produce the fighter indigenously. In India, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. produces the Su-27 while China’s Shenyang Aircraft Corporation assembles the aircraft under license as the J-11. Indonesia and Vietnam also fly the Su-27 in Asia. The Soviet Union’s collapse left the air forces of several ex-Soviet republics with Su-27s of their own, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Ukraine’s Air Force also flies the Su-27 and in fact has deployed the fighter in the ongoing War in the Donbass, albeit in a limited capacity.

MiG-29

Small, short-range, and widely produced, Mikoyan’s MiG-29 (NATO reporting name “Fulcrum”) might accurately be described as the TIE Fighter of the former U.S.S.R. Entering service for the Soviet Union in 1983, the MiG-29, much like the Su-27, was designed to compete with the F-15 and F-16.

While the MiG-29 is smaller than the Su-27, and cannot compete with it in terms of range, speed, and quality, it compensates in one critical area: maneuverability. In fact, post-Cold War tests carried out by the German Luftwaffe revealed that the Mikoyan jet was more agile than the F-16.

The MiG-29 is also a multirole fighter and can be equipped with air-to-air missiles like the AA-8, designed for use at close range, and air-to-ground weaponry like the AS-12 missile. The Fulcrum proved to be a highly dynamic platform, and since 1983, has been adapted for a wide array of more specialized roles.

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