The future of the Sukhoi Su-27M (Su-35) advanced variant of the Su-27 Flanker has become dependent on the design bureau securing an export order for the aircraft following the effective collapse of Russian air force funding for the project.

According to Moscow sources, state finance for the development of the Su-27M has shrunk to less than 10% of what is required to complete testing.

Most funding for the project is being provided by Sukhoi. Around a dozen Su-27M prototypes have been built, with several in flight test at the Zhukovsky flight test research centre and at the air force's combat test centre at Ahktubinsk in southern Russia.

Sources admit that the project's future will only be secured if an export order can be obtained.

Sukhoi is pinning its hopes on winning a co-development/co-production deal with South Korea to meet its F-X requirement.

The Russian company, however, is expected to face stiff competition from an advanced variant of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and an export variant of the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22. Sukhoi may offer a thrust-vector equipped Su-27M, dubbed the Su-37.

The Su-27M programme was launched in the early 1980s. It was intended to replace the basic Su-27 Flanker B in Russian air force and air defence units during the 1990s before the disintegration of the defence budget hit development and production plans.

The Russian air force's scant resources now appear to be directed towards the Su-27IB(Su-34) strike-aircraft replacement for the Su-24 Fencer.

Source: Flight International