The Sukhoi Su-30, Su-33, Su-34 and Su-35 look similar because they are all based on the Su-27 Flanker. The Su-27 was developed alongside the MiG-29 starting in the late 1970s to counter the 4th generation American planes, mainly the F-15 and F-16. The Su-27 was designed as a high-end fighter with better radar and data link while the MiG-29 had limited ability in beyond visual range combat.

The Su-27 Flanker would fly around receiving updated information from ground-based airborne radars allowing them to keep their radars off until they see a target in range. While the MiG-29 lacked ground attack capabilities.

About the same time, the Su-27 and MiG-29 were being developed the Soviet Navy was finishing their first conventional carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov. When it was being built- Sukhoi developed a navalized version of the Su-27, Su-25 and Mig-29 by Mig. The original designation for them was the Su-27K, Su-25UTG and the Mig-29K.

first conventional carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov

Sukhoi decided to change the Su-27K designation to Su-33. The Su-33 is either being retired or has been retired in favour of the MiG-29. Originally there were supposed to be two Kuznetsov class aircraft carriers which were small for fleet carriers to comply with limits on a 1936 treaty that limits warships that pass through the Bosphorus Strait. The USSR designed the multiple carrier planes because they were developing an American style carrier when they collapsed.

Su-27K designation to Su-33

The Su-30 originally called the Su-27PU – and it was originally designed to be a command plane. The Su-30 had the addition of a weapons systems officer (WSO). Originally the Su-30 was designed to be the lead plane in a flight of flankers they would turn their radar on when there was no AWACS or ground-based radar keeping the flight updated and designating targets for them. Later it was expanded to have an air-to-ground role, it can be compared to the F-15E.

Now the Su-34, some try to compare this aircraft to the F-15E which is inaccurate, since it has lost a lot of dogfighting ability. The Su-34 was developed to replace the swing-wing Su-24 and in some roles the Tu-22M. The Su-34 actually began its life as a carrier plane, The carrier version did not come into fruition.

The Su-34 actually began its life as a carrier plane

The Su-35 Super Flanker originally called Su-37 which was developed from Su-27M the designation was later changed because Sukhoi thought it sounded better.

There is no MiG-30 but there are MiG-33 and MiG-35. The MiG-33 was changed to MiG-29M and the MiG-35. The MiG-35 Super fulcrum is slightly larger than a regular MiG-29. while the MiG-29M has been upgraded with a lot of the MiG-33’s technology. There is MiG-31 which is a replacement for Mig-25.

A good analogy for the Su-27/30/34/35 family is the F-16 family (albeit some discrepancies since this is not a 100% match):

  • Su-27 v.s. F-16A/C/E, single-seat variants mostly used as air-superiority fighters.
  • Su-30 v.s. F-16B/D/F, two-seat variants mostly used for training/strike missions.
  • Su-34 v.s. Japanese F-2, wildly modified design optimized for strike missions.
  • Su-35 v.s. F-16V, latest “ultimate” variants.
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