Cold War

The Sukhoi Su-15 Was Looooooooong

The Sukhoi Su-15 was developed during the Cold War, this interceptor played a crucial role in the defence strategy of the Soviet Union and was tasked with the high-speed interception of enemy bombers and reconnaissance aircraft.


The Flagon was Born thanks to the Cold War

The development of the Sukhoi Su-15 traces its origins to the heightened tensions of the Cold War, during a period when the need for superior air defence capabilities became paramount for the Soviet Union.

Read More Britain’s Grand Slam was the Heaviest Bomb of WWII

Recognising the necessity for an interceptor that could outperform the increasing capabilities of Western reconnaissance and bomber aircraft, the Soviet Air Force issued a directive for the creation of a new, advanced fighter. This directive led to the initiation of the Su-15 project, with Pavel Sukhoi and his team at the forefront of its design and development.

The design philosophy behind the Su-15 focused on achieving high speed, excellent altitude performance, and effective radar and weapons systems.

An air-to-air right side view of a Soviet Su-15 Flagon aircraft.
The Flagon was certainly long.

To meet these stringent requirements, the Sukhoi Design Bureau embarked on a rigorous process of innovation and refinement. The adoption of the delta wing configuration was a pivotal decision in the Su-15’s development. This design choice was instrumental in providing the necessary lift and stability at the high speeds and altitudes the interceptor would operate, significantly enhancing its aerodynamic efficiency.

Technological Advancements

Central to the Su-15’s performance were its twin turbojet engines, which represented the cutting edge of Soviet propulsion technology at the time.

These engines were capable of propelling the aircraft to speeds of Mach 2.5, allowing it to ascend to altitudes where it could effectively intercept high-flying targets. The selection of these engines underscored the emphasis on speed and altitude capability, which were critical for the interceptor’s mission profile.

Moreover, the Su-15’s radar system marked a significant advancement in Soviet avionics. The aircraft was equipped with a sophisticated radar that enabled it to detect and track targets at long ranges, a capability that was vital for its role as an interceptor.

This radar system, when coupled with the Su-15’s advanced weapons suite, including air-to-air missiles and cannons, made the aircraft a formidable adversary against any incursion.

The development of the Su-15 also involved extensive testing and refinement to ensure its operational effectiveness. Test flights and simulations played a crucial role in identifying and rectifying any aerodynamic or system deficiencies, leading to continuous improvements in its design.

These iterative enhancements were critical in honing the Su-15’s capabilities, ensuring it met the exacting demands of its interception mission.

A Flagon C.
A Flagon C.

In addition to its technical achievements, the design of the Su-15 also considered the practical aspects of operation and maintenance. The aircraft featured systems that were robust and relatively straightforward to service, ensuring that it could be rapidly deployed and maintained in the field. This practicality underscored the Su-15’s role as a workhorse of the Soviet air defence forces, capable of high readiness and reliability.

Read More Laté 631 the Beautiful & Gigantic Flying Boat

Operational Service

The Flagon entered into operational service with the Soviet Air Defence Forces in the mid-1960s, marking the beginning of a distinguished career as a key component of the Soviet Union’s air defence strategy.

Its introduction into active duty came at a time when the geopolitical landscape was fraught with tension, necessitating a robust defence capability against potential aerial threats. The Su-15 fulfilled this need admirably, serving as a high-speed interceptor that could effectively counter enemy bombers and reconnaissance aircraft at high altitudes.

Upon its induction, the Su-15 quickly demonstrated its value as a formidable interceptor. The Soviet Air Defence Forces deployed the aircraft extensively across the vast expanse of the Soviet Union, where it stood guard over critical military and strategic installations.

The Su-15’s primary mission involved the interception and neutralisation of any aircraft that penetrated Soviet airspace, a task for which its speed, altitude capabilities, and armament were ideally suited.

A right front underside view of a Soviet Su-15 Flagon-A fighter aircraft in flight. (Substandard image)
A right front underside view of a Soviet Su-15 Flagon-A fighter aircraft in flight.

The operational service of the Su-15 saw it undergoing several upgrades aimed at enhancing its combat effectiveness. These upgrades touched upon various aspects of the aircraft, including its radar systems, engines, and weaponry. Improvements in radar technology increased the Su-15’s ability to detect and engage targets at greater distances, thereby extending its operational reach.

Engine upgrades boosted its speed and service ceiling, allowing the interceptor to meet and surpass the capabilities of emerging aerial threats. The enhancement of its armament, including the integration of newer air-to-air missiles and the refinement of its cannon systems, ensured that the Su-15 remained a potent force throughout its service life.

Banner Ad MiG 21

The Flagon was an Excellent Interceptor

One of the most critical aspects of the Su-15’s operational service was its role in air defence exercises and real-world interceptions. The aircraft participated in numerous drills that simulated engagements with enemy forces, honing the skills of its pilots and ground crews.

These exercises were instrumental in developing tactics and strategies that leveraged the Su-15’s strengths to maximum effect. Moreover, the interceptor’s actual combat deployments underscored its strategic importance. The Su-15 was involved in intercepting and escorting away intruding aircraft on several occasions, demonstrating its effectiveness in safeguarding Soviet airspace.

Read More Swamp Ghost: Pacific B-17 Preserved by a Swamp

The Su-15 also gained international notoriety for its involvement in a few high-profile incidents during the Cold War. These incidents highlighted the tense standoffs that often occurred between the superpowers of the era and underscored the critical role that interceptors like the Su-15 played in national defence.

Despite the political ramifications of these events, they served to illustrate the operational capabilities of the Su-15 under real-world conditions.

The pair of engines gave the Flagon extreme high speed performance. Almost unbelieveble for the 60s! Photo credit - Peterolthof CC BY-SA 2.0.
The pair of engines gave the Flagon extreme high speed performance. Almost unbelieveble for the 60s! Photo credit – Peterolthof CC BY-SA 2.0.

Despite its success as an interceptor, the advent of newer technologies and changing defence priorities eventually led to the Su-15’s gradual retirement from active service. Its decommissioning in the late 1980s marked the end of an era for the Soviet Air Defence Forces.

However, the legacy of the Su-15’s operational service lives on. Its contributions to the defence of Soviet airspace during a critical period of the Cold War underscore the strategic significance of air superiority and the enduring value of effective interceptor aircraft.


The airframe through several variants over its operational lifetime, each designed to enhance its capabilities and address specific operational requirements. This journey of evolution reflects a continuous process of refinement and adaptation, aimed at maintaining the aircraft’s effectiveness in the face of advancing technology and changing strategic needs.

The initial production model of the Su-15 set the baseline for its design, featuring a delta wing configuration and equipped with powerful turbojet engines. This model established the aircraft’s reputation as a high-speed, high-altitude interceptor, capable of engaging airborne threats across the vast expanse of the Soviet Union’s airspace.

A preserved example of the Su-15 TM. Photo credit - George Chernilevsky CC BY-SA 3.0.
A preserved example of the Su-15TM. Photo credit – George Chernilevsky CC BY-SA 3.0.

Recognising the need for improved performance and capabilities, the Sukhoi Design Bureau introduced the Su-15TM, which represented a significant upgrade over the initial model.

This variant included enhancements to its radar and missile systems, allowing for better target acquisition and engagement capabilities. The Su-15TM’s improvements were not just limited to its avionics; modifications to its airframe and engine systems also contributed to better overall performance, including increased speed and manoeuvrability.

Two Seat Trainer

Another notable variant was the Su-15UM, a two-seat trainer version developed to provide pilots with comprehensive training on the Su-15 platform. The introduction of the Su-15UM addressed the need for a dedicated training aircraft that could familiarise new pilots with the interceptor’s complex systems and handling characteristics without compromising the operational capabilities of the frontline units.

The trainer variant played a crucial role in ensuring that pilots were adequately prepared to operate the Su-15 effectively in various operational scenarios.

The Su-15 also saw the development of specialised versions, such as the Su-15Sh, designed for specific roles beyond its primary mission of air interception. These specialised variants reflected the versatility of the Su-15 platform and the Soviet Union’s approach to maximising the utility of its military assets across different roles and missions.


The Sukhoi Su-15’s legacy goes well beyond its retirement in the late 1980s. It marks a key chapter in military aviation history. Several factors led to the Su-15’s retirement.

These include new technology and changing global politics, which called for new defence strategies. Yet, the Su-15’s impact remains strong. It highlights its role in air defence and showcases Soviet engineering skill.

Read More The Air Force’s 50,000 Ton Press

The decommissioning process of the Su-15 marked the end of its operational life but also initiated a new phase wherein the aircraft transitioned from an active defender of the Soviet airspace to a revered icon of Cold War aviation.

Several Su-15s found new homes in museums and collections around the world, where they serve as tangible links to a bygone era of aerial duels and strategic brinkmanship.