Russia uses a Su-30SM against unmanned boats in the Black Sea

The Russian Aerospace Forces, commonly known as VKS or RuAF, are known for frequently employing their Su-30SM fighter aircraft to counter unmanned seacrafts in the Black Sea. A comprehensive procedure of such operations is vividly depicted in a video that was posted on the social media platform X [once known as Twitter]. 

The process commences with equipping the Russian fighter jet with an assortment of weaponry – these include aerial bombs [as visible in the video], cruise missiles, air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles, and anti-radiation missiles among others. 

Upon taking off from their base, the Russian pilot, in his Su-30SM, locks on to the targets using the initial radar coordinates. Once the targets are located, the Su-30SM unleashes its arsenal and then makes its way back to the base. The Su-30SM has an impressive track record, managing to destroy the target in virtually every engagement, given that a confrontation between two comparable weapon platforms often tilts in favor of the Su-30SM. Despite the successes, it does open up a debate – Is it financially prudent to deploy the Su-30SM, or indeed any fighter aircraft, against similar targets?

Su-30 has used Khibiny EW during an interception of the F-35
Photo credit: Dzen.ru

Efficiency and profitability

Without a doubt, the Su-30SM emerges triumphant in any given uneven encounter, practically guaranteeing a solid 100% obliteration of any marked and target-locked surface drones, as emphasized earlier. 

But the lingering question is – how effective is it? There’s a fair amount of discourse, advocating the speculation that Russia might be deploying another variety of weaponry. Furthermore, there’s a convincing argument supporting the use of an alternative weapon. 

10+ Russian Su-30s began tactical rehearsals over Kaliningrad - Su-30
Photo credit: Irkut Press Office

Let’s consider a scenario where the Su-30SM, by sheer fortune, comes within the reach of Ukrainian air defenses. In such a situation, the likelihood of the fighter jet being brought down while pursuing an unmanned boat heightens considerably. 

In contrast to this, a good number of analysts are proponents of the view that these types of operations are better executed by either attack helicopters or assault drones. Not only would these options successfully complete the operation, but their potential loss, compared to the Su-30SM, would be viewed as the “lesser evil”

When it comes to costs, it’s clear that such an operation will impose a heavier financial burden on Russian aviation. Data from openly accessible sources indicate that an hour’s flight of the Su-30 could set Russian taxpayers back between $10,000 and $13,000. While we don’t have concrete figures on what an hour’s flight on a Russian Ka-52 helicopter would cost, it’s fairly safe to presume that it would be significantly less. The hourly expense of operating an attack drone is minuscule in comparison to the Su-30, further emphasizing this point.

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

Frequent use of the Su-30

Unquestionably, the Su-30, particularly the Su-30SM variant, is frequently commissioned to naval forces. Therefore, deploying the Su-30SM against marine targets is a routine part of the pilot’s duties. 

Notably, Russia regularly employs the Su-30 against a diverse range of vessels, both manned and unmanned. One highlighted incident occurred in August when the Russian Ministry of Defense divulged that a Ukrainian amphibious reconnaissance vehicle in the Black Sea was obliterated by a Su-30. According to the statement, the skirmish took place when the vessel navigated close to Russian gas extraction facilities and was subsequently felled by a Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jet. 

Russia revealed what tasks the Su-30SM performs in Ukraine
Photo credit: 5Mods

In a follow-up incident a month later, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported that a duo of Su-30SMs along with MiG-29s demolished four vessels, resulting in the unfortunate loss of “50 Ukrainian servicemen” who were stationed aboard those ships.

Su-30SM

The Su-30SM, a specific variant of the thrust-vectoring Su-30MKI, is a product of the Irkut Corporation designed exclusively for the Russian Aerospace Forces. This 4+ generation fighter jet, also known by the NATO reporting name Flanker-H, boasts notable sophistication. 

150 Su-30 fighter jets discard their outdated 80s BARS radar
Photo credit: AP

What distinguishes the Su-30SM is its suite of advanced enhancements tailored to meet the varied demands of the Russian military. These include specialized radar systems, detailed radio communications systems, a precise friend-or-foe identification system, state-of-the-art ejection seats, a host of weapon enhancements, and other key aircraft system alterations. Notably, it employs the N011M Bars radar, which affords a maximum detection range of 400 km and a scanning range of 200 km, courtesy of a state-of-the-art phased array antenna. Additionally, the jet’s supermaneuverability is enhanced through its frontal horizontal fins and directional thrusters alongside the use of a wide-angle HUD. 

As a versatile military asset, the Su-30SM can excel in both obtaining air dominance and engaging adversaries on the ground. To achieve this, it harnesses a rich arsenal of weaponry including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles as well as both guided and unguided bombs. These armaments can weigh up to a formidable 8,000 kg in total. To bolster its firepower, the Su-30SM is equipped with a 30 mm GSh-30-1 autocannon, giving it a pronounced edge in combat scenarios. 

For extended operational range and flexibility, the Su-30SM features in-flight refueling [IFR] capabilities. This ensures that the aircraft can conduct missions far from its home base. Adding to its repertoire of features, the Su-30SM can be armed with two SAP-518 jamming pods on its wings for electronic warfare. The SAP-518 enhances the aircraft’s survival odds by generating decoy targets, disrupting missile guidance systems, jamming enemy aircraft radars, and confounding ground and naval air defense systems.

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