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Rebuilding The Russian Air Force
by James Dunnigan
December 11, 2011

The Russian Air Force is receiving about a hundred new or refurbished aircraft and helicopters next year. That's a big improvement over a decade ago, when the air force got no aircraft, and only enough fuel to allow most pilots a few hours a month (on average) in the air.

Over the last decade, the air force got more and more new, or rebuilt, aircraft each year, along with more fuel. Now Russian Air Force pilots get all the fuel for training that they need. But the air force is still full of Cold War vintage aircraft that have never been upgraded.

The aircraft arriving next year consist of 55 helicopters and most of the rest combat are aircraft like the Su-34, Su-25SM and Su-35S. It was only three years ago that Russia began building the first Su-34 fighter-bombers (20 of them). These are 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). Su-34s cost $36 million each (less than half the cost of an F-15E).

Twelve years ago Russia decided to upgrade 80 of their Su-25 aircraft to the SM standard. In addition to extending service life by ten years or more, the Su-25SM has new electronics that permit the aircraft to use smart bombs and missiles. The navigation system has been upgraded, to include GPS and more automation. Many improved components were installed, to reduce maintenance manpower needs by a third. The Su-25 is a 17 ton aircraft that carries a 30mm twin-barrel rotary cannon (with 250 rounds) and up to five tons of bombs and missiles (including air-to-air missiles). The twin-engine, one seat aircraft has a combat radius of 380 kilometers and a top speed of 900 kilometers an hour. It's the Russian equivalent of the U.S. A-10, which has received similar upgrades to prolong its service life. The Su-25 design is similar to the 19 ton American A-9, a competing design with the 23 ton A-10. The Su-25/A-9 both are about 14 percent faster than the A-10. But the A-10 is a more stable aircraft, and much more resistant to battle damage. Absent lots of ground fire, both the A-10 and Su-25 are very effective against ground targets. The A-10 also has an edge with its unique 30mm autocannon, in addition to seven tons of bombs. The A-9 could carry eight tons, in addition to the same 30mm autocannon.

The Su-35S is actually a much upgraded Su-27 (as opposed to the Su-30, which was a redesigned Su-27). The 25 ton Su-35S was designed for maximum maneuverability. And even sports a new type camouflage pattern. The Su-35S is also a very capable bomber, and can carry eight tons of bombs and missiles. It has a 30mm autocannon and is equipped to deliver smart bombs and air-to-ground missiles. Some have compared the Su-35S to the U.S. F-15E (an F-15 fighter upgraded into a very capable fighter-bomber).


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