Attrition: It's Raining Su-25s

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February 7, 2011: For the second time in a year, Azerbaijan lost an Su-25 ground attack aircraft to an accident. Poor maintenance is believed the main reason for both losses, and that is a result of military budget cuts, and corruption (stealing some of the money allocated for maintenance.) Azerbaijan has about 30 Su-25s, but because of the maintenance problems, only about a dozen are fit for duty at any time. Last year, five used Su-25s were bought from Belarus.

Despite these losses, the Su-25 is still a popular aircraft. When well maintained, the Su-25 is very effective. Over a thousand have been produced since 1978 and the aircraft is still in production and are still being upgraded. Five years ago, after seven years of work, Russia put the first two Su-25SM upgrades into service. Six more were delivered within a year. Russia still finds export customers for the Su-25, both cheap used models, or high end versions like the Su-25SM.

Russia still maintains a force of Su-25s. As long ago as 1999, 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 have 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.

Currently, Russia plans to keep 80 or so SU-25s in service until the 2030s. This will probably require one more round of refurbishment. 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.

 


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