July 6, 2010: For the first time, Russia practiced quickly moving Su-24M and Su-34 bombers from European bases, to one on the Pacific coast, 6,000 kilometers away. This required in-flight refueling (three times for the Su-24M, twice for the newer Su-34). The exercise included the aircraft carrying weapons, and simulating delivering them on a target before arriving at the Pacific coast base. This particular exercise was aimed at China.
It was only two years ago that Russia began building the first Su-34 fighter-bombers (20 of them). These are now replacing the 43 ton Su-24s. The 45 ton Su-34 is yet another variant of the 33 ton Su-27, and is very similar to the 36 ton U.S. F-15E (a two seat fighter bomber version of the 31 ton F-15C.)
The Su-34 has a full set of defensive and offensive sensors (radars, targeting cameras, laser designators) and electronic warfare gear, and can carry eight tons of missiles and smart bombs. Russia is buying 58 Su-34s to replace 300 Su-24s (most of these are not fit for service). Over the next two years, Russia plans to put 24 Su-34s in service, at a cost of $36 million each (less than half the cost of an F-15E). Meanwhile, some of the more recently built Su-24s were upgraded as the Su-24M2 standard. Most of the 1,400 Su-24s built are over 25 years old, and many have been grounded several times recently because of age related problems. The Su-34 has been in the works for several years, and earlier versions of two seater Su-27 bombers were known as the Su-32.