In early July Russia again grounded its SU-24 fleet. These days that’s about 300 aircraft. This is a big deal because during the Cold War the Su-24 was the Russian answer to the American F-111 and European Tornado fighter-bombers. Introduced in the mid-1970s, it was a 43 ton swing-wing design with a crew of two and a short range (only about 600 kilometers). The original Su-24 carried eight tons of bombs and had good fire control and electronics for the time. Some 1,400 were built before production was halted in 1993. Since then most Su-24s have been retired because of old age and lack of upgrade options. Since 2000, Russia has lost seventeen Su-24s to accidents. Many more have been retired because of this tendency to become very dangerous to operate as they age. This is one of the reasons Russia is hustling to replace the Su-24s with Su-34s. That has not been going well. This is costing Russia its ability to deliver smart bombs and guided air-to-ground missiles.
Russia began building the 45 ton Su-34 fighter-bombers in 2008. The Su-34 is yet another variant of the Su-27 and is very similar to the thirty-six ton U.S. F-15E (a two seat fighter bomber version of the 31 ton F-15C). But Russia still has 300 Su-24s in service and only 70 Su-34s. It appears that the new Su-34s will not arrive quickly enough to replace most of the elderly Su-24s. The Su-34 has a full set of defensive and offensive sensors (radars, targeting cameras, laser designators) and electronic warfare gear, it also can carry eight tons of missiles and smart bombs. Russia is currently buying less than a hundred Su-34s to replace three-hundred older Su-24s (most of these are not fit for service). Most of the flyable Su-24s were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s.