Russian Fullback gained the ability to launch ballistic missiles

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In an unprecedented maneuver, the Russian Air Force has utilized Su-34 strike fighters to deploy ballistic missiles, revealing a hitherto undisclosed capability. This development possesses the potential to significantly alter the operational application of these aircraft.

Photo by Alex Beltyukov

Following a notable escalation in the production of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile, it has been reported that these weapons were integrated into modified MiG-31 interceptors. These interceptors, which were subsequently designated as MiG-31K and for later variants, MiG-31I, began this incorporation process in late 2017. 

Even though only an estimated 30-35 MiG-31K/Is are currently operational, the Su-34 stands out as the predominant fighter class within the Russian Air Force. This is evidenced by the impressive statistic that over 120 units have been commissioned into service.

The Su-34 has an advantage over the MiG-31

Photo by Marina Lustseva

The divergence in statistics is further intensified by the considerable advantage that the Su-34 holds over the MiG-31 in terms of maintenance requirements and operational costs. The Su-34, necessitating significantly lesser upkeep, boasts higher availability rates. This, in conjunction with its reduced operational expenditure, renders it an ideal aircraft for the deployment of Kinzhal missiles. 

The incorporation of the Kinzhal into the Su-34 holds considerable weight in a variety of theaters where these aircraft are stationed, extending from the icy expanses of the Arctic and the distant Far East to the contested terrains of Ukraine and Syria.

Notably, the Su-34 holds the distinction of being the tactical combat jet with the greatest range currently in active service across the globe, surpassed only by the behemoth MiG-31 in terms of sheer size. Given its modern construction and efficient design, it possesses the capability to transport significantly heavier payloads over more extensive distances.

Video screenshot

Su-34 was confused with Su-35

In a noteworthy incident, Russian state media channels erroneously reported that the lightweight Su-35 fighter had been utilized for the deployment of the Kinzhal missile. Furthermore, they inaccurately labeled images of the Su-34, referring to them as Su-35.

Given the Su-35’s blueprint as an air dominance fighter, coupled with its significantly reduced carrying capacity and operational range, as well as its steeper price compared to the Su-34, it has instigated doubts from the inception concerning the veracity of such reports. 

Russia confirmed

Photo by Alexey Kudenko

On September 4, a defense official, who requested to remain nameless, provided insight into the inaugural strike executed by a Su-34 fighter jet using a Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a specialized military operation. In recognition of the milestone, the official disclosed, “The first crew to successfully carry out such a demanding task will be the recipient of state awards.”  

The Kinzhal missiles, in their significant deployment within the Ukrainian theatre, have demonstrated notable efficacy. The apex of their successful operations was observed in May, when, launched from the MiG-31K strike fighters, they reportedly decimated newly arrived Patriot missile batteries stationed in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

A notable challenge

Photo credit: YouTube

The agility and elusiveness of these missiles present a notable challenge in tracking and interception, a difficulty that is further amplified by their terminal velocities approaching the staggering speed of Mach 9.

Compounding this, they possess the capacity to house a diverse array of warhead types, thereby enhancing their versatility. Intriguingly, these missiles share their production lines with the 9M723 missiles, designed for the Iskander-M ground-based system, a fact that illuminates the significant surge in productive capacity witnessed over the preceding year. 

Integrated into its combat aircraft, the distinctive abilities of Russian air-launched cruise and ballistic missiles have served as an essential counterbalance. This strategy has effectively offset significant drawbacks in other aspects of its defense sector. Notably, the severe lag in the deployment of stealth fighters, wherein Russian programs have fallen notably behind their Chinese and American counterparts, has necessitated such measures. 

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