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Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

Russia's Air Force Receives New Su-34 Strike Fighters From Sukhoi

November 30th - 2017

The Russian Aerospace Forces have received a new batch of Su-34 strike fighters, the most advanced fighter of its kind in Russian service. In service since 2014, the Su-34 is Russia's equivalent to the United States' F-15E and China's J-16. As the only three states capable of developing a high performance air superiority fighters, the F-15, Su-27 and J-11 respectively, the world's three greatest military powers have all used these airframes to develop dedicated strike fighters capable of long range sorties against enemy ground targets. While Sukhoi began developing a strike fighter concept similar to the Su-34 to replace the Su-24 in the late 1980s, the fall of the USSR and the defunding of most of Russia's military programs in the 1990s meant that the Su-34 entered service 29 years after the Su-27 on which it was based. It has however emerged as potentially the most potent strike fighter in the world.

The Su-34 is distinguishable from other Su-27 variants by its wide cockpit which is made to accommodate two pilots side by side, the only fighter of its kind to do so. With a payload of 18,000kg as opposed to the Su-27's payload of 7000kg, the Su-34 is ideally suited to the role of a strike fighter. Though less adept in air to air combat, and with a lower service ceiling and poorer thrust-weight ratio, the fighter's capabilities are heavily tailored towards air to ground attacks and attacks on enemy naval vessels. For this an armored crew cabin is a critical asset, as at low altitudes there are greater risks of coming under ground fire. A greater fuel capacity and more external weapons hardpoints, as well as the ability to carry a far wider range of specialized guided munitions, make the Su-34 a more lethal long range strike fighter. The Su-34 was also designed to be able to fulfill a anti-ship role, with each carrying enough armaments to potentially down even the largest of warships. Indeed, the fighter's most distinguished role may well prove to be that of a ship hunter where a combination of its range, payload and sensors makes it lethal. The Su-34 also retains some limited air to air combat capabilities, and while it is by far the least maneuverable of the 'flanker' Su-27 variants it retains a 30mm GSh-301 gun and 180 rounds of ammunition with a muzzle velocity of 860m/s. External weapons hardpoints are also usually used to carry at least two air to air missiles - more if the fighter is likely to encounter airborne threats. With a powerful radar and the ability to engage enemy aircraft at range, the Su-34 is a capable air to air combat platform so long as it remains out of visual range - as its poor maneuverability would leave it vulnerable in a dogfight.

Costing around $35 million per fighter the Su-34 is the least costly of all the modern Su-27 variants. Indeed, compared to the similarly capable US equivalent, the F-15E Strike Eagle which cost approximately $100 million, the Su-34 may well prove to be the more competitive platform on international markets. The Russian Air Force will field approximately 110 fighters by the end of 2017, six of which demonstrated their capabilities flying sorties against insurgent groups in Syria. Algeria is as of yet the only foreign buyer of the fighter, and is considering placing an order of up to 40 platforms. With a growing trend towards states favoring Russian arms over their US counterparts, particularly in the Arab world in the aftermath of Russia's victory in Syria, the Su-34 may well follow the Su-35 - an air superiority fighter also based on the Su-27 which entered service the same year - in becoming a popular platform for export. Some leading potential customers which have previously purchased Russian arms for which the Su-34 could fulfill a valuable role include Egypt, Indoensia, Sudan, India, Vietnam, Belarus and, should the arms embargo be lifted, North Korea. For many of these countries the Su-34's long range and lethal anti ship capabilities make it ideal for patrolling contested waterways or deterring enemy navies - while the platform itself comes at a small fraction of the cost of a modern warship which it can effectively threaten.

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