Russian Su-34 is too heavy as a fighter and too small as a bomber

Before the war in Ukraine, we read about weapon systems without having a deeper insight into their performance. This is because we relied solely on the information provided by their manufacturer. Today, however, after more than a year of war in Ukraine, some platforms are showing their true potential. We can now compare whether statements match actions.

Russian Su-34 is too heavy as a fighter and too small as a bomber
Photo by Alex Beltyukov

The Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber is just such a weapons platform. Its role in Ukraine is more than key for attacking Russian aviation. American author Kris Osborn provides an intriguing analysis of the aircraft in his latest article for 19fortyfive. Mr. Osborn is trying to find the Su-34’s true role by balancing skillfully between the aircraft’s capabilities.

America has no equivalent of such an aircraft. The three B-1, B-2, and B-52 are pure bombers. They cannot boast of the performance of a single fighter. At the same time, the F-35 and F-15 can perform bombing missions, but to a lesser extent. The Su-34, as Osborn writes, is “stuck” in missions. Let’s see…

The Su-34 is a heavy fighter

Undoubtedly, the Su-34 is not a typical Russian fighter. Although close in design to the Su-27 and Su-35, the Su-34 actually has a very large maximum takeoff weight of 100,000 pounds. This is no accident because it allows the Su-34 to arm itself with “a huge amount of weapons.”

Russia sent Su-34M/M2 strike aircraft to Ukraine for testing
Photo credit: Military Watch Magazine

However, the difference must be put into perspective to make sense of the Su-34’s weight. I.e. The Su-27, for example, takes off at a maximum weight of 64,000 pounds. Therefore, the Su-27 is considered one of the most maneuverable fighters in the world. The Su-34 cannot come close to this maneuverability, despite the two engines.

The empty weight ratio between the two fighters is similar. The Su-34’s empty weight is 50,000 pounds, while the Su-27’s is only 36,000 pounds. But the Su-34 is far from its role as a pure true bomber. As mentioned, its maximum takeoff weight is 100,000 pounds, while Russian clean bombers start at over 400,000 pounds.

The Su-34 is small for a bomber

The latest figures show us that the Su-34 is actually small for a bomber. The small size compared to real bombers brings it closer to fighter capabilities. Is that so?

Russia acquired new Su-34Ms with rear-hemisphere scanning radar
Photo credit: Global Look Press

The Su-34 is a two-seat fighter-bomber. We already know its capabilities as a bomber, let’s see what its capabilities show us as a fighter? The Su-34 can fight any battle – air-to-air and air-to-ground. Although not as fast and maneuverable as a real fighter, its speed of Mach 1.8 allows it to quickly switch from one mission to another.

One of the most notable advantages of the Su-34 is that it can switch from an aerial mission to a bombing mission. I.e. in such a mission, the Su-34 may not need to fly in pairs with the Su-27. I.e. in this situation, the Su-34 can perform a mission of air combat, ground attack, and last but not least – “glide and precision bombing to a greater extent.”

Game changer or flying coffin

What is Su-34? At first reading, it is a kind of hybrid that tries to position itself among its aerial counterparts. One moment he can’t complete missions without them, the next he doesn’t need their support.

Russian Su-34s bombed pro-Turkish positions in Idlib, Syria
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Osborne also asks this question. We have already described the lethal performance of the Su-34, through the ability of this combat aircraft to change missions like a chameleon. Yes, this is an advantage that other countries do not have.

But at the same time, the Su-34 is vulnerable. Heavy and larger than a fighter, the Su-34 is not as fast. Despite its maneuverability, it will not be enough to outrun the more maneuverable F-16 if they meet in the air. If hit by an F-16 at a time when the bomber’s “belly” is full, large explosions are expected, both in the air and on the ground.

When the Su-34 cannot escape

I think that everything said so far in this material about the Su-34 fully covers the performance of the aircraft in Ukraine. After the Su-25, the Su-34 is the most downed [or damaged] aircraft since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

There are dozens of shreds of evidence [photos and videos] of how the Su-34 was hit by an air defense system of the Ukrainian armed forces. This is not an isolated case. The latest was two weeks ago when Ukrainian sources claimed that the Air Defense had shot down a Su-34 over the Bryansk region, along with one Su-35 and two Mi-8 helicopters. Although Moscow claims the plane had a damaged engine, Kremlin sources confirmed to that the military had sent a combat unit to the crash site to search for signs of a sabotage group.

Russian Su-34 is too heavy as a fighter and too small as a bomber
Photo by Marina Lustseva

On March 4th of this year over Enakievo, Donetsk region, the shooting down of one Su-34 was confirmed. The information was confirmed by both Russia and Ukraine – something that has happened extremely rarely since the beginning of the war. There are continuous reports – on September 11, 2022, there was a more serious downing of the Su-34.

When you can’t escape the Su-34

Su-34 also has many successes. These are the cases in which it is difficult to escape from the Su-34. But these cases seem to direct us more towards one of the missions for which this combat aircraft was used most often.

The Su-34 has been flying in pairs since the beginning of the war. Although, as we found out, it can perform multiple missions, it cannot escape the pure fighters. Therefore, the successes of the Su-34 are more in bombing missions.

Russian Su-34 is too heavy as a fighter and too small as a bomber
Photo credit: Creative Commons

The first more obvious evidence of the Su-34’s success is from the middle of last year, but since the beginning of this year, this combat aircraft has had many more flights and a bigger role. For example, in March there was a claim that together with the Su-57 they were successfully launching GROM gliding bombs. A little later, evidence emerged that the Su-34 was already armed with the FAB-500M62 bomb. However, this evidence became known as a result of an unfortunate incident – a Su-34 “mistakenly dropped” this bomb over Belgorod.

On May 8, a Su-34 discovered a Western mercenary base in Ukraine and dropped several aerial bombs. Since the beginning of this year, it is known that the Su-34 has had several successful bombing missions with the release of 1,500 kg gliding bombs.

Last delivery noticed a very strange dependency. In 2022, the war in Ukraine was mostly fought on the ground. Then, in the air, Russia began to lose more aircraft and equipment than in 2023.

Of course, since the beginning of the year, Moscow has changed tactics. The weather did not allow the war to be fought on the ground, and only Bakkhmut was the most followed and prolonged ground battle. In the air, however, in addition to Russian superiority over Ukraine, Russia has switched munitions. It began to use aerial bombs more than missiles. To this day, Ukraine has not been able to counter an aerial bomb launched by a Su-34 traveling a distance of 30-40-50 km.

Su-34 Fullback - Russian fighter-bomber/strike aircraft [review]
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The dependency we noticed is that after the last Su-34 delivery, Moscow started using aerial bombs. Our sources confirmed that it was the newly delivered Su-34s at the end of 2022 that were modified to use aerial bombs. The information about the Su-34’s expanded combat capabilities was later confirmed by the Russian media Izvestia.


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