Warplanes: Racing Against Time


March 17, 2012: Russia has ordered another 92 Su-34 fighter-bombers, to replace its fleet of aging Su-24s. This came a month after another Su-24 crashed, the third to be lost this way in the last five months. Because of that accident, all Su-24s were grounded for two weeks to make sure there was not a common problem. As usual, the problem was old age. In the last 12 years Russia has lost sixteen Su-24s to accidents, despite keeping these complex, swing-wing aircraft on the ground most of the time. Many more Su-24s have been retired because of old age. This is one of the reasons Russia is hustling to replace the Su-24s with Su-34s.

It was only four 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). But Russia still has about 400 Su-24s in service and only twenty Su-34s. It appears that the new Su-34s will not arrive quickly enough to replace most of the elderly Su-24s. Thus for the rest of the decade, Russia will have a shrinking strike fighter force.

The Su-34 has a full set of defensive and offensive sensors (radars, targeting cameras, laser designators) and electronic warfare gear. It can also carry eight tons of missiles and smart bombs. Russia now has 150 Su-34s on order to replace 300 older Su-24s (most of these are not fit for service). Russia is building the first 24 Su-34s 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 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.


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