The Russian Defense Ministry has just signed a contract for 92 Sukhoi Su-34 attack aircraft (designed by NATO as the “Fullback”), which will add to the ten already delivered under a five-year contract executed in 2008 for 32 units. A 4+ generation aircraft, it is capable of all-weather, all-visibility operations and has the capacity to employ precision-guided munitions.
The Su-34 falls in terms of size and capacity between the U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle and the F-111 Aardvark, the last variants of which were retired by the U.S. Air Force in 1998 to be replaced by the F-15E and B-1B Lancer. It was developed from the Su-24 “Fencer” and Su-27 “Flanker” beginning in the second half of the 1990s.
The aircraft has the capability to carry up to 17,600 lbs. of ordnance, and can employ a mixture of air-to-air missiles (AAMs) and ground-attack munitions. Defensive AAMs available include the R-27 “Alamo,” the R-73 “Archer,” the R-77 “Adder,” and the Su-34’s multimode radar system can track up to ten targets simultaneously and manage four concurrent engagements.
As for ground attack, a wide range of munitions can be fitted to the Fullback, including a variety of unguided and precision-guided gravity bombs, air-to-surface missiles, land attack cruise missiles, and in the naval aviation variant (Su-34FN) anti-ship and both supersonic and subsonic anti-ship cruise missiles, along with anti-submarine torpedoes.
The Fullback has a crew of two, who sit side-by-side in an armored cockpit. It employs the same “glass” multifunction configurable displays used in U.S. combat aircraft. Since it is designed like the F-111 was for low-level penetration missions, it has a ground-following radar capability plus an extensive electronic warfare (EW) suite that includes a threat receiver, jammer, infrared attack warning system, and countermeasures. In addition, the Su-34 can mount the KNIRTI SAP-14 Support Jammer ECM pod, which gives the aircraft EW capabilities similar to the U.S. EA-6B Prowler and EA-18G Growler.
It is likely that the Russians will use this advanced aircraft to gradually replace their fleet of over 400 Su-24 Fencers.