Sukhoi Design Bureau started work to produce the Su-25 attack aircraft in 1968. The new plane was meant for support of troops from directly over the battlefield and was designed to be an extremely easy-to-use and maintain subsonic jet aircraft with superior manoeuvrability and damage control. In the period 1970-1971, the Su-25 aeroplane design project was entered for an attack aircraft pilot design competition along with projects by the Design Bureaus of Yakovlev, Ilyushin and Mikoyan, and emerged as winner over the competing bids as the most advanced design.
The conceptual design and mock-up were reviewed in September 1972, and the prototype T8-1 completed in November 1974; it was taken up for its maiden flight by the design bureau's chief pilot V.S. Ilyushin on 22nd February 1975. The bureau's testing of the two Su-25 prototype planes went on till October 1976, with the aircraft subsequently returned for engineering follow-up. Official testing of the aeroplane started in 1978. It was decided to combine the first stage of Su-25 governmental testing with the plane's trials under the army's field conditions in Afghanistan. To this end, a joint task force was formed of the Air Forces R&D Institute test team and representatives of the industry, which was given, in addition to seconded technical personnel, two prototype planes: T8-1D and T8-3, as well as four pilots: A.A. Ivanov and N.F. Sadovnikov from the Design Bureau, and V.N. Musyka and V.V. Solovyov from the R&D Institute of the Air Forces. Between 16th April and 5th June 1980, the Shindand airfield in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan saw the task force arrange 100 test flights, including 44 actual tactical missions. In the course of testing, the Su-25 demonstrated superior combat performance. The governmental testing was completed in December 1980.
The Su-25 was produced at a plant in Tbilisi, with the first production plane flight tested 18th June 1979 by the design bureau's test pilot Yu.A. Yegorov. Over the period of its series production the aircraft underwent large-scale reengineering. 1984 saw a special export variant developed, which was called Su-25K (T-8K), and supplied to Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Iraq, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and to Angola. Following the battlefield testing in Afghanistan, the plane underwent extensive redesign in 1987-88 to improve its damage control; it passed trials in 1989-90 and was put into series production as a Su-25 version with a new R-195 engine; a batch of Su-25BM target-towing aircraft was produced in 1991. After 1991, Su-25 planes decommissioned from the Air Forces of Belarus and Russia were exported to Peru and Ethiopia.
A distinctive feature of the Su-25 as an attack aircraft designed for close battlefield support missions in an ADF asset-populated environment, is its improved damage control. With the extensive reengineering that was carried out the plane received an armoured cockpit, and PU-foam-filled reinforced explosion-proof fuel tanks, among other features. Prior to incorporation into the plane, these features were bench-tested by the Design Bureau to be subsequently validated in the course of the aeroplane's operation during the hostilities in Afghanistan.
The USSR Air Forces entered the Su-25 into service as part of the inventory of separate attack aircraft regiments (SAAR) under district (army) command. The first 11 production planes were assigned in April 1981 to 80 SAARs stationed at the Sital-Chai airfield (Transcaucasian MD). The resources of the regiment were used to put together the 200th separate attack aircraft squadron (SAAS), which was deployed in June 1981 as part of the Air Forces’ 40th army in Afghanistan to become the first combat unit of the USSR Air Forces to fly missions on Su-25 attack aircraft. Throughout the subsequent entire period of the Soviet troops' engagement in Afghanistan, the Su-25 was a key asset of air support for the troops on the battlefield. The Su-25 attack aircraft demonstrated superior combat performance and damage control. The hostilities saw the aeroplanes fly 60,000+ combat missions, with a mere 23 planes lost in total as a result of battle damage in the air, i.e., the average accrued flying time per plane was 2,600 hours, which is significantly higher than the showing for any other combat aircraft used in Afghanistan. The Su-25 was officially put into service by a decree of the government of 31st March 1987. By that time, the aeroplane had already been in series production for 8 years, 6 of which had been spent in active service, including flying combat missions in Afghanistan. As part of Russia's Air Forces inventory, Su-25 planes have been used since 1994 in combat operations against insurgents in the Chechen republic. Abroad, Su-25Ks were extensively used in combat operations by the Iraq Air Force in the 1981-88 war against Iran, and by Angola's Air Force during the '80s-'90s civil war.
Development of a trainer version of the Su-25 was ordered by a decree of the government of 29th June 1976. The two-seat trainer was to be produced at the aircraft factory in Ulan-Ude. Su-25UB prototypes (T-8U) were assembled in Ulan-Ude in 1985. The first flight of the Su-25UB first prototype, T8U-1, was performed on 10th August 1985 by the design’s bureau test pilot A.A. Ivanov. Official testing was conducted in 1986-87; the plane was produced from 1986 to 1991 in two variants: the Su-25UB for the USSR Air Forces and Su-25UBK for export. In August 1988, the Ulan-Ude mass-produced Su-25UB was used by the Design Bureau as the platform for a Su-25UTG two-seat trainer version for naval aviators of aircraft carrier-based planes. All its attack and weapons systems were removed and an arrestor hook installed. The plane’s main function was to train pilots to take off and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier of project 1143.5. The first flight of T8UTG-1 prototype took place on 1st September 1988, the machine piloted by the design bureau's test pilot I.V. Votintsev. On 1st November 1989, in the course of Su-25UTG flight development tests, the crew of design bureau pilot I.V. Votintsev and FRI test navigator V.A. Krutov performed the T8UTG-1's first landing on the deck of the Tbilisi ACHC (later renamed the Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov). The Su-25UTG went into series production in 1991, with the planes handed over to Naval Aviation.
In 1976 Design Bureau started work to produce a “tank buster” version of the attack aircraft Su-25T (T-8M) designed for antitank warfare. In the course of subsequent work, efforts were focused on making the plane capable of round-the-clock deployment. With this end in view, it was equipped with a highly automated electro-optical aiming system Shkval and a sophisticated antitank weapons system Vikhr. The first flight on the prototype aeroplane, T8M-1, was performed on 17th August 1984 by the design bureau's test pilot A.N. Isakov. In the period 1984-87, the three prototype planes were used to perform flight development tests, and official testing of the aeroplane took place in 1988-92. In 1989-91, Tbilisi produced a development batch of planes, with the first production Su-25T flight tested at the plant on 26th July 1990 by test pilot V.P. Korostiyev. At the beginning of the '90s, NPK Shturmoviki Sukhogo, or the Sukhoi Attack Aircraft Research-and-Production Facility, attempted to launch a project to develop a Su-25T-based attack aircraft under the name of Su-39. The Ulan-Ude factory put in place production arrangements and made first two pre-production planes. The aeroplane is currently still under testing.
Starting in 2001, Design Bureau has been implementing a programme to upgrade the Su-25 planes in service in the Air Forces of Russia (Su-25SM). The programme's leading facility is the 121st ARP of the Defence Ministry (Kubinka), the work being performed under the leadership of, and in cooperation with, Sukhoi Design Bureau. The first upgraded plane, Su-25SM-1, was flown on 3rd March 2002 by the design bureau's test pilot I.Ye. Solovyov. Once the testing programme has been completed, a decision will be made regarding the scope and timeframe for the modernisation of combat aircraft.