The Design Bureau Work started to develop a Su-27-based naval fighter in 1971; the next decade saw 3 versions of plane developed one by one, designed for landing on project 1160 and 1153 aircraft carriers. The projects provided for development of a CTOL aeroplane with steam-catapult takeoff and conventional (non-V/STOL) landing using an arrestor wire. In terms of design/configuration, they faithfully reproduced all the major solutions then adopted for the baseline, "ground-based" version of the Su-27, but adapted for deck landing, which involved the need to strengthen the landing gear, install an arrestor hook and provide for wing folding during the storage of machines on the hangar deck.
Starting in 1982, Sukhoi Design Bureau resumed work on the deck-based version of Su-27 designed for use on project 1143.5 aircraft-carrying heavy cruisers (ACHC) with an anticipated air group strength of about 50 aircraft (Yak-41, naval versions of the Su-27 and MiG-29, Ka-252 helicopters). The carrier was expected to support the short takeoff of Su-27 and MiG-29 type planes with a ski-jump installed on the fore end of the flight deck rather than with a steam catapult. The solution requiring experimental validation, the Design Bureaus of Sukhoi and Mikoyan built special-purpose flying laboratories (FL) using prototype planes as the platform to try out the ski-jump takeoff. To research arrangements for decking, the Naval Aviation training centre at the Crimean airbase of Saki set up a special ground-based test bed incorporating a ski-jump and deck arrestor (NITKA system).
Sukhoi Design Bureau used the FLs to fine-tune the prototype, T10-3, and in 1982-83 it was used for the first stage of ski-jump testing and the ground-based stage of arrested landing testing. N.F. Sadovnikov was appointed the Design Bureau's chief test pilot for the programme. On 28th August 1982 he became the Design Bureau's first pilot to perform a ski-jump-boosted takeoff in T10-3. In 1984, the shipboard operation testing programme received another fine-tuned prototype, T10-25. The latter was used for trying out a procedure for landing without levelling off and takeoff from a new type of ski-jump, which had a higher ramp angle. On 30th August 1984, N.F. Sadovnikov used T10-25 for the first time to perform a "navalised" landing, and on 3rd September 1984, the first takeoff from the new ski-jump.
Sukhoi Design Bureau was tasked with development of a ship-based version of the Su-27 for ACHC (project 1143.5) by a decree of the government of 18th April 1984. Before that, a similar task was set for the MiG-29 aeroplane, which effectively arranged for a competition between the two design bureaus for a źplace on deck╗.
In 1983, K.Kh. Marbyshev was appointed the Design Bureau's head of shipboard project. In November 1984, the conceptual design passed critical design review, with the detailed design of the Su-27K (T-10K) completed in 1985-86. To minimise the aeroplane's dimensions for storage on the hangar deck, the Su-27K wing-fold axis was moved closer to the centreline in the course of design, with the foreplanes (CS) rendered foldable as well. This made it possible to achieve the aeroplaneĺs cross section dimensions, with the wings and CSs folded, on a par with those of the MiG-29K. To reduce the landing speed, the Su-27K was provided with a new highly mechanized wing fitted with a two-piece single-slotted flap, an aileron and a bigger leading-edge flap. In the light of the results of the testing of the T10-24 prototype, the Su-27K was fitted with foreplanes to give it more nose-down trim during landing. Moreover, the Su-27K was given an inflight refuelling system, with an option of using as a tanker a similar plane with a buddy tank.
Two Su-27K prototypes were built by the Design Bureau in cooperation with a production plant in 1986-87. The first flight of the prototype T10K-1 was performed by the design bureau's test pilot V.G. Pugachov on 17th August 1987, and on 22nd December 1987, N.F. Sadovnikov took off for the first time in the second prototype, T10K-2. In the course of the plane's flight development tests, on 1st November 1989, V.G. Pugachov used T10K-2 to perform the USSRĺs first conventional (non-V/STOL) landing on the deck of the USSR Admiral of the Fleet Kuznetsov ACHC (then Tbilisi). In 1989, the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant started production of a Su-27K development batch, the first production plane being flight-tested at the plant by the design bureau's test pilot I.V. Votintsev on 17th February 1990.
Official testing of the Su-27K took place in 1991-1994. In April 1993, the Komsomolsk-on-Amur plant released the first ship-based fighters for delivery to the pilots of the aviation wing of the Northern Fleet to be put into service at the 279th ship-based fighter aircraft regiment (SFAR). By August 1994, the regiment had received as many as 24 production aircraft. In 1993-95, combat pilots of the 279th SFAR gained experience on the aircraft; following that, between December 1995 and March 1996, the USSR Admiral of the Fleet Kuznetsov ACHC put to sea for its maiden long-distance training voyage. The 31st August 1998 decree of the president of the RF put the Su-27K into service under the name of the Su-33.
To provide a two-seater for training ship-based aircraft pilots, the Design Bureau started to develop a T-10K-based two-seat combat trainer version of the aeroplane in the mid '80s. Later, in the early '90s, the development efforts focused on a version of two-seat trainer which became known under the designation Su-27KUB (10KUB). A prototype was built in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in 1995-98 and assembled in Moscow, with the prototype, T10K-4, used for engineering follow-up. The first flight of the 10KUB prototype was performed 29th April 1999 by the plant's test pilots V.G. Pugachov (commander) and S.N. Melnikov (second-in-command). The plane successfully passed the manufacturer's tests; in addition, 10KUB was evaluated by cockpit personnel of fleet aviation. Su-27KUB testing is still in progress, the prototype having been fitted with new equipment and AL-31FP engines with thrust vector control.