In the Soviet Union, design of aircraft was done by experimental design bureaus (OKB which in Russian stands for Opytnoe Konstructorskoe Byuro), these usually were named after their lead designer. Production was then undertaken at the State Aviation Factories (GAZ). In the pre-war system, aircraft were designated by their function and a sequential model number. This number could be repeated among aircraft of different function. Variants of an aircraft were designated with a type number after the model, an example is the I-16 Type 24. Major design changes, on the other hand, were indicated by a "bis" to the designation, such as in the I-15bis or by adding an additional number to the model (similar to the French system); thus, the I-153 was a redesigned version of the I-15. While these were general rules, it was not uncommon for follow-up designs to feature designations that did not follow this framework.
|ARK||Artic Coastal Reconnaissance|
|DAR||Long-range Artic Reconnaissance|
|DIS||Twin-engined Escort Fighter|
|MBR||Short-range Maritime Reconnaissance|
|MDR||Long-range Maritime Reconnaissance|
|MTB||Maritime Heavy Bomber|
|ROM||Open Sea Reconnaissance|
|SchR||Attack Fighter Reconnaissance|
|SPB||Fast Dive Bomber|
|Tsh||Heavy Attack Fighter|
In 1940, a new designation system was introduced, and it is the same system which is used up to this date. Instead of function, an aircraft was primarily represented by the design bureau that it originated from. The design bureau was included as an abbreviation followed by a sequential model number. Fighters and similar types were given odd numbers, while all other aircraft had even numbers. Old aircraft that continued to be produced after the system changed were frequently renamed, thus the TB-7 eventually became known as the Pe-8. Changes in the structure of bureaus was reflected in the aricraft designations. For example, the LaGG-1 was so named while Lavochkin, Gorbunov and Gudkov worked together. It's successor, designed by Lavochkin alone, was known as La-5. On the other hand, MiG retained its abbreviation even after it was renamed to simply Mikoyan after Artem Mikoyan's death in 1970. Variants of Soviet aircraft using the new designation system are indicated by a suffix letter. These are not sequential, rather they indicate the new function of the aircraft. The most common are described in the table below.
Post-war aircraft featured a far wider variety of functional suffixes, many of which overlap with themselves meaning one word could represent two or more different functions. Combining functions was commonplace, and a single aircraft variant could have as many as four different functional suffixes. So while one of the first variants of the MiG-21 was the MiG-21F (Forsirovannyy or uprated engine), the MiG-21PFM was a variant optimized for the interceptor role (Perekhvatchik) with an uprated engine (Forsirovannyy) and modernized (Modernizirovannyy). Subsequent modifications usually have a sequential number added to the M prefix as can be seen in the Tu-22M3 or the Su-30MK2. Adding to the complexity, however, is that many times the suffix reflected not the function but rather a particular weapons system or equipment that was introduced on that variant. So for example, the MiG-21S was equipped with the Sapfir radar and the uprated MiG-21F-13 was armed with the K-13 missile system. More recently, Russian aircraft have also occasionally added an extra suffix letter (either before or after the function suffix) representing the country it is intended for export such as the Su-30MKI (India) and the MiG-29BM (Belorussia).
Ultimately, many function suffixes were one-offs on experimiental designs or applied due to unique circumstances. A good example of this is the MiG-31B, where the suffix denotes a modification of the radar after the original's technical data was leaked to the CIA. Because of the high degree of overlap between suffix letters it is often complicated to translate the designations of a Soviet/Russian aircraft without knowning beforehand its role and what weapons or equipment it is fitted with. With more recent variants of popular aircraft such as the Su-27 and MiG-29, it is likely that many of their designations are assigned by the manufacturer and are therefore unique to the aircraft rather than consistent across the VVS.
Save for some exceptions, Soviet aircraft typically are not given official names. After the war, NATO assigned code names to identify Soviet equipment since the real designations were frequently unknown (or misidentified) by the West. These code names began with the letter indicating the type of weapon system and are followed by a hyphen and a sequential letter suffix for each major variant. Sequence was based on the order in which NATO observers learned of the existence of each new aircraft, and did not necessarily correspond chronologically with its actual date of entry. Prototypes and pre-production aircraft were also generally given unique letters although frequently the existence of an aircraft was not known until it was in service. The initial production Su-27 is therefore known as the Flanker-B since the -A suffix had been assigned to the prototype whereas the Fulcrum-A is the producton version as the prototype was unknown. Notably, piston-engined aircraft were given single-syllable names while jet-engined aircraft were given multi-syllable names.
Variants or modifications not deemed important enough to warrant a new letter were simply given a Modified suffix followed by a number if needed. Thus the NATO code for the basic Tu-95 is Bear-A, and that of the Tu-142MZ is Bear-F Mod. 4. Conversely, sometimes batches or modifications of the same Soviet designation were given different code name letters (the Fencer-A, -B, and -C referred to different batches of the base Su-24 variant). NATO also retained the same code name for all variations of the same aircraft, even when these received a different Soviet designation (a common practice when they performed a significantly different role). For example, the Flogger code name refers to both the MiG-23 and MiG-27, while the Bear code name referred to the Tu-95 and Tu-145.
|MiG||Mikoyan-Gurevich / Mikoyan|
|BM||Bol'shaya modernizatsiya||Major modernization|
|DP||Distantsionno piloteeruyemyy||Remotely piloted|
|I||Izmenyayemaya strelovidnost||Variable sweep wings|
|K||Korabelnogo bazirovaniya||Deck-based (carrier)|
|PS||Poiskovo-spasahtel'nyy||Search and rescue|
|ShN||Shturmovaya-nizkovysotnaya||Low level strike|
|S||Sapfir||Sapfir radar (MiG-21, MiG-23)|
|V||Vodrov||Hydrogen bomb carrier|
NATO Code Name
|F||Fighter / Tactical aircraft|