The first variant was designed during the 1980s, when Sukhoi sought to upgrade its high-performance Su-27, and was initially known as the Su-27M.
Later re-designated Su-35, this derivative incorporated aerodynamic refinements with increased manoeuvrability, enhanced avionics, longer range, and more powerful engines.
The first Su-35 prototype, converted from a Su-27, made its maiden flight in June 1988. More than a dozen of these were built, some of which were used by the Russian Knights aerobatic demonstration team. The first Su-35 design was later modified into the Su-37, which possessed thrust vectoring engines and was used as a technology demonstrator. A sole Su-35UB two-seat trainer was built in the late 1990s that strongly resembled the Su-30MK family.