‘The Su-34 workhorse has five or six flights a day’ – Russia

Commands to bolster the production of Su-34 strike fighters have been issued by the Russian Defense Ministry. The move is reflective of the aircraft’s pivotal role in nuclear deterrence strategies and tactical strike missions across various global theatres, from the chilly Arctic to the tumultuous Middle Eastern region of Syria to the Western Pacific. 

'The Su-34 workhorse has five or six flights a day' - Russia
Photo credit: Russian MoD

In tandem with the augmentation of Su-34 production, there have been successful strides in increasing the production of the high-tech Su-57 fifth-generation fighter. Reports indicate that output for this model is set to double in the current year, compared to its turnout in 2022. 

Early October saw Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu paying a visit to the Chkalov Aircraft Factory located in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Minister Shoigu underscored the crucial role of the Su-34 in Russian air force operations during his visit and issued orders to enhance its production. 

Shoigu emphasized, “The Su-34 is our air force’s primary powerhouse, showing remarkable performance with four, sometimes five sorties per day. Therefore, it’s essential to escalate our pace. Our facilities are already ahead of schedule this year for the 2024 program, which calls for a similar acceleration here.” He further stressed that these facilities are keeping up the pace both in terms of producing new units and modernizing the existing fleet. 

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

Recognized as the world’s longest-ranged tactical combat aircraft, the Su-34, is essentially an extensively modified version of the Su-27 Flanker, once the pride of the Soviet Union’s air superiority.

Featuring a weight that exceeds its predecessor the original Flanker by roughly 50 percent and boasting a formidable ordnance load, the Su-34 aircraft displays an impressive capacity to deploy a broad spectrum of cruise missiles and guided bombs. Its notable participation in combat operations commenced in late 2015 in Syria and continued seeing action in Ukraine as of early 2022. 

In 2008, low-rate initial production of the Su-34 commenced, although only one airframe was manufactured that year. The Russian Air Force didn’t see the addition of these aircraft until 2014.

10+ Russian Su-30s began tactical rehearsals over Kaliningrad - Su-30SM
Photo credit: Twitter

A larger delivery took place later in 2014 when eighteen airframes were added to the fleet. For several subsequent years, the delivery rates of the Su-34 remained among the highest within the Russian fleet, except for the less specialized Su-30SM

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Defense Ministry records show that more Su-34s have been purchased than any other type of fighter class. This trend partially mirrors the sizable number of aging Su-24M strike fighters that the majority have been or are soon to be replaced by the Su-34. 

In August 2022, the Defense Ministry placed the most recent order for Su-34s. It should be noted that aircraft delivered from July 2022 onward are built to a more advanced standard, known as the Su-34M variant. According to Yuri Slyusar, the director general of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, these aircraft have double the combat capacity of the original Su-34. 

Egyptian Su-35 Flanker-E fighters are going to Iran in March
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Apart from standard Su-34M fighters, specialized variants tailored for electronic warfare or reconnaissance have been delivered as well. 

The reconnaissance variant is equipped with the UKR-RT electronic search pod, the UKR-OE camera pod, and the UKR-RL with integrated synthetic aperture radar. The electronic warfare variant, on the other hand, incorporates the L700 Tarantul ECM pod as its primary armament along with other undisclosed modifications. 

In early September, the Su-34 showcased its compatibility with the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missile, a new addition to its weapons class that extends the aircraft’s targeting range to 2,000 km. 

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

The Kinzhal missile, known for its superior maneuverability, can be loaded with nuclear or a variety of conventional warheads and is considered virtually un-interceptable. The Ukrainian theatre has seen extensive Kinzhal deployments, including a noteworthy event where newly delivered Patriot missile batteries were reportedly destroyed in Kyiv in May. 

By integrating the Kinzhal missiles into the Su-34, the aircraft’s performance capabilities are considerably enhanced. This upgrade is expected to stimulate further demand for the aircraft within the fleet. Offering significant benefits over the Kinzhal’s original carrier, the MiG-31K, the Su-34 touts lower operational costs and improved endurance. 

The integration of the Kinzhal missile into the Su-34 is widely believed to have been prompted by the impressive combat performance of the missile in Ukraine. Kinzhal production surged to quadruple by mid-2023 compared to before the war, which suggests that the size of this arsenal could soon surpass the number of available MiG-31s.

MiG-31BMs get R-74M missile hitting targets in the rear hemisphere
Photo credit: MWM

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