In the second half of 1936, tasked by the Central Administration of Aviation Industry (CAAI), the designer teams of N.N. Polikarpov, I.G. Neman, S.V. Ilyushin, S.A. Kogerilin, D.P. Grigorovich and P.O. Sukhoi conducted preliminary design studies of attack/recon aircraft with the AM-34FRN piston engine.
A CAAI commission reviewed the designs and arrived at the conclusion that they aircraft "… in terms of their geometry, weight and flight performance do not differ very much from one another," and recommended to build three versions of the aeroplane with duralumin, US-technology-based, and wooden and mixed frames. Each version was assigned a chief designer: P.O. Sukhoi (plant No 156, Moscow), I.G. Neman (plant No 135, Kharkov) and N.N. Polikarpov (plant No 21, Gorky).
The commission's recommendations were approved by the country's leadership, and on 27th December 1936 there was published a resolution of Labour and Defence Council (LDC) on Development of High-Speed Long-Range Attack-Reconnaissance Aircraft, later referred to in correspondence under the code name of "Ivanov".
Having resumed work on the project, in early 1937, P.O. Sukhoi produced a design based on the air-cooled M-62 engine as a more rugged solution for battlefield environment. The new aeroplane's design made extensive use of extruded sections, and pressed and moulded structural members made of aluminium alloys and fabric-based laminates, whereas the use of the template method made it possible to simplify aeroplane engineering procedures and set up a production line. The project received shop designation of "SZ" (stands for "Stalin's Job" in Russian).
The prototype was engineered and built in the record-breaking time of 6 months. On 25th August 1937, M.M. Gromov took off in the first prototype aeroplane, SZ-1. The manufacturer's tests continued, on and off, punctuated with engine failures, till the end of 1938. The plane could not be presented for official testing because of the ban on using the M-62 engine.
December 1937 saw a "clone" (SZ-2) completed, the aeroplane making its first flight on 29th January. On instructions from the People's Commissariat of Defence Industry, in January 1938, SZ-2 was handed over for joint testing with the Air Forces, which took place in Yevpatoriya, with the Scientific Research Institute of Air Forces represented by Yu.A. Makarov and K.A. Kalilets. The tests were completed on 26th March, the aircraft having been found up to standard and recommended for series production.
Due to a variety of reasons, the Ivanov of I.G. Neman failed to be completed, and the aeroplane of N.N. Polikarpov did not take off the ground until late 1938. This meant that the Ivanov of P.O. Sukhoi was the winner of the unannounced competition. The governmental testing completed, SZ-2 arrived at plant No 156 to have its engine replaced, its service life having run its course. Fitted with a new engine, the aeroplane did not make more than a few flights as on 3rd August it was wrecked following the M-62 engine break-up.
A third SZ-3 aeroplane with an M-87 engine took off on 17th November 1938 with test pilot A.P. Chernavsky. After manufacturer's testing and follow-up, the SZ-3 was made available for official tests, which were completed in early April 1939. In terms of its flight performance, the aeroplane met all the requirements of the Air Forces, its superior design and flying qualities held in high regard. In March 1939, with governmental testing still in progress, the people's commissars of defence and aircraft industries petitioned the USSR CPC's Defence Committee (DC) to put the Ivanov aeroplane with M-87A engine into service in the Worker and Peasant Red Army and set up series production. A decision as to which plant to choose for production took a very long time to make, and it was not until July 1939, after PCAI had approved the 1939-40 aircraft prototype engineering plan, that the plant in the Kharkov started to gear up for full-scale production of the aeroplane designated BB-1 (for "short-range bomber one" in Russian). At the same time, P.O. Sukhoi was appointed Chief Designer of plant No 135.
Unlike its prototypes, the production aeroplane had an airframe featuring mixed materials (fuselage, a wooden monocoque with plywood sheathing; and a wing and tail group made of metal). This was due to the fact that the USSR did not yet have enough metal to build all-metal aircraft..
In 1940, the BB-1 (since December 1940 known as Su-2), having undergone a number of modifications, changed its production configuration, receiving M-88 and M-88B engines; the last production aeroplanes, about 60 in total, were fitted with the M-82 engine.
Moreover, in 1940 the production facilities for the aeroplane were expanded with plant No 31 in Taganrog and No 207 in the town of Dolgoprudny. A total of 910 Su-2 aeroplanes had been produced by the spring of 1942.
In the period of 1939-41, concurrently with full-scale production, the design bureau of P.O. Sukhoi worked on different versions of the aeroplane. It produced a number of alternative designs of the aircraft to boost its battlefield performance, including improvements to its aerodynamics, retrofitting it with new engines (M-63TK, M-81, M-89, M-90), and other initiatives
Su-2 aeroplanes started to be put into service in the AFRA in the second half of 1940. By the outbreak of the Great Patriotic War, as of 22nd June 1941, the fleet of Su-2 aircraft in the Air Forces numbered 213 (West Front, 75; South-West Front, 114; 9th separate army (Odessa Military District), 24). The hostilities up to 1944 involved (according to a number of sources) 14 to 17 short-range bomber regiments, over 12 reconnaissance and spotter squadrons and 18 flights armed with Su-2 aeroplanes.
At various times during the Great Patriotic War, Su-2 aeroplanes were flown by 27 pilots who were awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, with M.P. Odintsov and G.F. Sivkov being honoured with the title twice.