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 April 2007
Suchoi Su-34:
Russia's new bomber

By Piotr Butowski/KS

Twenty years after the programme was officially launched, Russia's air force has taken delivery of the first Su-34 bombers to emerge from series production. A two-seater equipped with the latest systems, the Su-34 will supersede the Su-24 and remain in service with planned improvements for many decades.


For Russia's air force, 15 December 2006 was a significant day: for the first time since 1992 it took delivery of a newly built warplane – having had to make do in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union with prototypes and the modernisation of existing aircraft. Air force boss Vladimir Michailov came to Novosibirsk for the event, where the Sukhoi Su-34 bombers with the serial numbers “01” and “02” were exhibited in front of the Chkalov plant (NAPO, Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association).

General Michailov, who had been urging the acceleration of the programme since 2002 or otherwise cancelling it, announced that the first regiment of the new tactical bombers, likely to consist of 20 aircraft, will be deployed by 2010. By 2020 the Russian air force intends to buy 200 of them at a price currently standing at 860 million roubles (25m euros). In June 2006, defence minister Sergei Ivanov announced plans to buy 58 Su-34 bombers (NATO code: “Fullback”) by the year 2005 as part of the national armament programme (GPW-2015). Sukhoi revealed it had received an initial order for 18 aircraft, six of which are to be completed this year and ten in the year 2008.

The differing statements provide evidence that Russian armament programmes are still beset by uncertainties. The delivery of the first two aircraft was also something of a propaganda event: the “02” was still not fully equipped and is likely to remain in Novosibirsk for another six months. Meanwhile, the “01” is heading to the military test centre at Aktyubinsk (Astrakhan) and subsequently to the 4th CBPiPLS combat training and retraining centre in Lipetsk. The first two aircraft in the production series will be used to support the two prototypes and five pre-series aircraft in the second phase of the field exercises, although some systems, such as the rear radar system and navigation and targeting pod are still not available.

Nevertheless, technically the Su-34 represents the pinnacle of Russian achievements in terms of warplane development. A tactical bomber weighing up to 39 tonnes, it is based on the aerodynamic configuration of the Su-27, although it has completely different systems, which were updated twice to reflect technical advancements and the changing requirements of the air force in the course of the lengthy development process. The Sch141 Kishchnik mission system is integrated by Leninetz Holding of St. Petersburg. This includes:
  • the W004 radar system with passive electronic scanning. This can capture targets on the ground or in the air. In navigation mode it displays a radar map and allows automatic low-level flying.
  • the W004 radar system in the long tail boom between the jet engines. This surveys the area behind the aircraft for enemy aircraft.
  • the Kibiny system (L175W) for electronic combat management. It is made by Kaluga-based KNIRTI and works with radar warning receivers to accurately localise threats, an infrared-based rocket warning system, active jammers and chaff/flare dispensers (each with eight cartridges).
  • the K102 system made by Ramenskoje-based RPKB for controlling the aircraft's electronic systems, including the navigation system, the displays and the KSS-2 communication system.
  • the Platan homing system with a TV camera and laser target illuminator made by Yekaterinburg-based UOMZ. Geofizika in Moscow was brought in to develop an electronic optical navigation and targeting pod.
For its role as an interdictor against high-value targets far behind enemy lines even when there are powerful anti-aircraft defence systems, the Su-34 is expected to make use of the entire arsenal of Russian air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. A total of eight tonnes of external load can be slung from twelve points. The R-73, R-27 and RVV-AE missiles are there for self-protection. The aircraft also has guided and unguided bombs and the X-29, X-31 and X-59M air-to-ground missiles as well as future developments such as the X-36, X-38, X-41 and X-SD. In its brochures Sukhoi has also shown the Su-34 with two Moskit or three Jachont anti-ship missiles.

In the 90s, Sukhoi tried to market the aircraft, which was originally known as the Su-27IB (Istrebitel Bombardirovchik = fighter bomber), internationally as a naval aircraft. At the air shows in Paris and Farnborough it was therefore presented as the Su-32FN naval fighter or Su-32MF multi-role fighter. Although its sales efforts have so far been unsuccessful, Sukhoi is still hoping for 100 to 200 orders from abroad. For the time being, however, the Russian air force takes priority. The plan is to further develop the systems for the air force, for example by installing a radar antenna with active electronic scanning. There are also plans to use more powerful jet engines with a thrust of 142 kN. Moreover, additional pods will allow the aircraft to be used for reconnaissance and to jam enemy systems.

Su-34: a long history

Sukhoi began investigating the possibility of an attack version of the heavy Su-27 fighter in the early 80s. Initially it was to be based on the two-seater trainer, but in the course of time more and more changes became necessary. The most important decision was the change to a large cockpit with adjacent ejector seats behind which there is even a toilet and a small kitchen. A pressurised cabin like in an airliner allows the crew to work without an oxygen mask. All the measures taken in the “comfort” development programme served to prevent the crew from getting tired during operations, which were expected to be long (ten hours or more with air refuelling). Protection was also given a great deal of attention, with 17 mm of armour plating around the cockpit.

Today's configuration of the aircraft, which was initially called the Su-27IB (Istrebitel-Bombardirovchik), dates back to 1987. The programme officially started on 19 June 1996 and was worked on by a team managed by Rollan Martirosov on the basis of the technical-tactical demands of the Soviet air force.

The first prototype of the project, which was named internally T10V, was developed at the Sukhoi test centre at Ulitza Polikarpova in Moscow on the basis of a Su-27UB cell. Anatoly Ivanov took the T10V-1 for its maiden flight in Shukovski on 13 April 1990. However, this aircraft was only used for the purpose of aerodynamic testing. The first published photograph showed it approaching the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, which is why it was initially speculated in the West that it would be used for marine purposes.

The second Su-27IB was built at the Chkalov plant in Novosibirsk, where the Su-24 was also built. It had a more voluminous body behind the cockpit and a larger tail boom. The new fuselage had a 30 percent greater tank volume than the Su-27. The greater weights required stronger landing gear with dual tyres on all units. The maiden flight of the T10V-2 took place on 18 December 1993 with Igor Votintsev and Yevgeny Revunov in the cockpit.

A test cell for tests to destruction (T10V-3) was followed by the pre-series T10V-4 (maiden flight: 26 December 1996), T10V-5 (maiden flight: 28 December 2004) and TV10V-6 (maiden flight: 27 December 1997). The V-5 (board number 45) was the first aircraft to have the Leninetz mission system, which was tested as of 1996. The V-4 (board number 44) was flown from the end of 1996 with the Sch141 system. In 1999 the optical Platan system was installed in this aircraft. Thus equipped, it took part in exercises near Ashuluk in April 2000, where it escorted Su-24 fighter bombers. One of the primary aims was to carry out tests with the electronic combat management system. In 2000 and 2002 the Su-34 was also deployed in trials over Chechnya.

The T10V-6 was equipped with new computers belonging to the BtsWM-386 series in 1999 that replaced the old Argon machines. Leninetz also used a Tu-134 as a test carrier for the V004 radar system. The other pre-series aircraft, the T10V-7 and T10V-8, flew on 22 December 2000 and 20 December 2003. In the meantime, testing proceeded very slowly until General Vladimir Michailov became commander-in-chief of the Russian air force in January 2002. After 150 test flights in the year 2002, around 130 missions were flown in the first six months of 2003 alone.

Although the first phase of the government's trials came to an end in June 2003, the air force insisted on further improvements that Sukhoi introduced first in the V-8 (board number 48). On 30 September 2006 the repeated government trials with the new standard were concluded. In this phase, GPS-guided bombs of the KAB-500 series were also tested for the first time. The first series aircraft took off for the first time on 12 October 2006 in Novosibirsk and was delivered to the air force in December. The second phase of the service tests began in the same month, focusing on the testing of further weapon system operating modes and the qualification of additional weapons and weapon combinations.

From page 44 of FLUG REVUE 4/2007

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