Russian Air Force Receives New Su-34 Strike Fighter Unit: What Makes the Class the MoD’s Favourite?

The Russian Air Force received a new squadron of Su-34 strike fighters, with the class continuing to be the most popular with the Defence Ministry for new acquisitions as it has been since it first became operational in 2014. An official statement from Moscow on November 16 elaborated regarding the latest delivery: “A new batch of new Su-34 warplanes has been manufactured at the Chkalov Novosibirsk aviation plant of the United Aircraft Corporation. The planes have undergone a series of ground and flight tests and performed a flight to the place of their service.” An estimated 125 Su-34s were in service at the beginning of the year, with new aircraft joining the fleet at a rate of approximately 14 per year and expected to continue to do so until at least the late 2020s. One key reason why the class has been acquired in greater numbers than the Su-30SM and Su-35S, which are also heavyweight aircraft with high operational costs, is that the Su-34 has been produced exclusively for domestic use while the other two classes have seen significant portions of productive capacity allocated to manufacturing for export.

The Su-34 is the longest ranged fighter in service anywhere in the world today and the only manned dedicated strike fighter class in serial production for over a decade. The latest order for new fighters of the class was placed in August 2022, while the enhanced new Su-34M variant began deliveries to the Russian Air Force a month prior in July. Su-34s are prized for their very long ranges, comparable to those of some strategic bombers, and formidable electronic warfare systems which combined with a relatively low frontal radar cross section makes them difficult two intercept. The new Su-34M variant integrates with a dedicated interface for three different types of sensors to maximise situational awareness. These include the UKR-RT pod which carries electronic search measures, the UKR-OE camera pod and the UKR-RL which integrates a synthetic aperture radar. The new variant will also reportedly see improvements to its air to air combat capabilities. The possibility of integrating Saturn 30 engines onto the fighters, which are currently under development for the Su-57 next generation fighter, has also been raised and could revolutionise the class’ flight performance and further enhance its range. The Su-34 is fielded in much greater numbers than any other class of tactical combat jet in the Russian Air Force.