New Su-34 delivery, but even it can’t offset losses in 2024

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The United Aviation Corporation [UAC] recently took to its Telegram channel on June 17 to announce an exciting development: a fresh delivery of Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers to the Russian Aerospace Forces [VKS or RuAF]. While the exact number wasn’t specified, photos hint that possibly two aircraft were part of this batch. Interestingly, BulgarianMilitary.com suggests that each batch of Russian Su-34s typically consists of just two fighters. 

Photo credit: UAC

In the wake of this delivery, Vladimir Artyakov, the first deputy general director of the state corporation Rostec, clarified that this was part of a scheduled state order. He mentioned, “Rostec aviation enterprises are maintaining a steady rhythm of military aircraft deliveries as per this year’s production program.” 

Yuriy Slyusar, General Director of UAC, also shared insights on the company’s progress. “Our UAC facilities are ramping up aircraft production. We’re enhancing both technological and business processes, tapping into additional resources to boost production volume. Plus, we’re bringing in fresh talent to our factories. In Novosibirsk alone, we’ve welcomed over 600 new employees since the start of the year,” he revealed. 

Photo credit: The National Interest

This marks the second delivery of the Su-34 fighter jets to the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2024. The first delivery occurred in early April, which was showcased by UAC through a video of only two planes taking off. Judging solely by the photos shared by Russian sources, it appears that four Su-34s have been delivered since the start of the year. 

While Russia continues to churn out new fighters, the production of Su-34s seems to be falling short, with significant loss reports since early 2024. Conflicting accounts suggest that on June 14, at least five Su-34 fighter bombers were lost during a Ukrainian drone attack on Morozovsk airport in Russia. 

Reports earlier in the year claimed that Ukraine’s armed forces shot down ten Su-34s within weeks. Although these reports are unconfirmed, it’s evident that Russia struggles to compensate for its losses. With five Su-34s lost after June 14 and only four new Su-34s delivered since January, the challenge is clear. Further, visually confirmed data shows that since the Russian invasion began in February 2022, Russia has lost 26 Su-34s up to February 26 of this year.

Photo credit: Telegram

The Su-34 has emerged as a pivotal asset for the Russian VKS in the conflict in Ukraine. In April, reports highlighted that the Su-34 could potentially be fully loaded with FAB-500M62 homing bombs under its wings, mounting two on each side. This information was confirmed by a photograph released by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. 

Recently, although the frequency of Russian air-to-surface cruise missile attacks on Ukraine has dipped, there has been a noticeable rise in the deployment of cruise bombs. The picture shared by Russia’s Ministry underscores analysis from numerous experts, suggesting that aircraft bombs are a significant component of Russian fighter armaments. 

These gliding bombs, fitted with flight control surfaces, operate as countermeasure weapons. This means that launching these bombs doesn’t require the aircraft to be near the target, unlike traditional gravity bombs. This strategy reduces the aircraft’s vulnerability to enemy anti-aircraft defenses.

Video screenshot

The Su-34 Fullback is a Russian twin-engine, all-weather supersonic medium-range fighter-bomber/strike aircraft. It was developed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau and is intended for tactical deployment against ground and naval targets, as well as for reconnaissance missions. The aircraft is a derivative of the Su-27 Flanker and is designed to replace the older Su-24 Fencer in the Russian Air Force. 

The dimensions of the Su-34 Fullback are notable for their size and configuration. The aircraft has a length of approximately 23.34 meters [76.6 feet], a wingspan of 14.7 meters [48.2 feet], and a height of 6.09 meters [20 feet]. These dimensions contribute to its substantial payload capacity and operational versatility. 

The propulsion system of the Su-34 Fullback consists of two Saturn AL-31F turbofan engines, which are also used in the Su-27 Flanker. Each engine provides a thrust of 123 kN [27,600 lbf] with an afterburner, allowing the aircraft to achieve a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 [1,335 mph or 2,150 km/h] at altitude. The engines are designed to offer a balance between performance and fuel efficiency. 

Photo credit: Creative Commons

The Su-34 Fullback is equipped with advanced avionics systems to enhance its combat capabilities. These include the Leninets V004 radar, which provides terrain-following and terrain avoidance capabilities, as well as the Khibiny electronic countermeasures [ECM] suite for self-defense. The aircraft also features a sophisticated navigation system, including an inertial navigation system [INS] and a global positioning system [GPS]. 

In terms of systems, the Su-34 Fullback is outfitted with a digital fly-by-wire control system, which enhances maneuverability and stability. The aircraft also has a modern glass cockpit with multifunctional displays [MFDs] that provide pilots with critical flight and mission data. Additionally, the Fullback is equipped with an advanced communication suite, ensuring secure and reliable communication during missions. 

The Su-34 Fullback is armed with a wide array of weapons, making it a versatile strike platform. It can carry a variety of air-to-ground munitions, including guided bombs such as the KAB-500 and KAB-1500, as well as air-to-surface missiles like the Kh-29, Kh-31, and Kh-59. For air-to-air combat, the aircraft can be equipped with R-73 and R-77 missiles. The Fullback also features a 30mm GSh-30-1 cannon for close-in engagements.

Photo by Alex Beltyukov

The operational range of the Su-34 Fullback is impressive, thanks to its large internal fuel capacity and the ability to carry external fuel tanks. The aircraft has a combat radius of approximately 1,100 kilometers [684 miles] without refueling, and its ferry range can extend up to 4,000 kilometers [2,485 miles] with external tanks. Additionally, the Su-34 can be refueled in flight, further extending its operational range and mission endurance.

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