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Why Is Russia’s Su-34 Fighter-Bomber Failing in Ukraine?

A Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber fires missiles during the Aviadarts competition, as part of the International Army Games 2021, at the Dubrovichi range outside Ryazan, Russia August 27, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Russia’s air force is not doing the job over Ukraine. Its fighter planes’ struggles are well documented and surprising. Some reports show that Russia’s fighter planes are grappling with basic navigation issues. The Su-34 fighter-bomber is an example. British military sources claim that Su-34 pilots are crudely affixing basic civilian GPS receivers to their cockpit controls. Moreover, the Su-34 is getting shot down in bunches, and Ukrainians are conducting fundraisers that sell parts from destroyed fighters. These are humiliating developments for Vladimir Putin’s air force. Airplanes the Russians thought would dominate the skies have been a failure.

Visible wreckage

Ukrainians examining wrecked Su-34s are finding after-market GPS systems “taped to their dashboards,” according to British defense secretary Ben Wallace. In comments issued May 9, Wallace said the Russians are exhibiting “poor quality of their own systems.” 

In another embarrassing twist, the Ukrainians are celebrating destroyed Su-34s in original ways. One group has collected pieces of downed fighters, which people can buy online for $1,000. The proceeds support the Ukrainian military. You can visit this site to donate and receive your prize from Su-34 wreckage. The keepsake is a blue-colored keychain that is hailed as an “original piece of aircraft skin” from an Su-34. One volunteer said the fund-raiser has accumulated $30,000 from the gimmick.

There is plentiful evidence of wrecked Su-34s online. According to open-source pictures collected by the Oryx blog, at least nine Su-34s can be confirmed as shot down by Ukrainian forces.  

It Was Supposed to Be a Modern Aircraft

Before the war, the Su-34 was considered one of Russia’s most valuable warplanes. Able to fly in any weather and at night, the Su-34 is a fighter-bomber with a range of 600 miles and a payload enabling it to carry 12 tons of ordnance. The Su-34 can be compared to an F-15E Strike Eagle.

The Su-34 has a pilot and co-pilot sitting side by side. The co-pilot also handles navigation and weapons systems. This is a large cockpit, and the crew can even stand up inside and lie down in a rest area complete with a toilet. 

The Su-34’s $50 million twin-engine airplane is a variant of the Su-27. The Su-34 is known for dropping precision-guided munitions, but David Axe at Forbes believes the PGMs have been used up and the Su-34 is dropping dumb bombs from low altitudes. These risky maneuvers expose them to Ukrainian air defenses.  

Just What Is Going On With This Airplane? 

The Su-34 is fairly modern, and the Russians bought them in bunches beginning in 2008. These planes were considered innovative. They could bomb at will but still have the speed and agility to outperform enemy fighters and avoid surface-to-air missiles. The Russians must be surprised the Su-34 is having so much trouble over Ukraine.

Downed Su-34

A member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces inspects remains of a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighting aircraft among residential area, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Chernihiv, Ukraine April 6, 2022. REUTERS/Serhii Nuzhnenko

It’s not clear why a fighter that was supposed to bring the Russian air force into a new era would need a civilian GPS. The enemy selling pieces of downed Su-34s adds insult to injury. This is another example of Russia failing to perform modern aerial warfare capable of achieving air dominance. Simply flying to a target and dropping dumb bombs is a simple tactic that won’t challenge the Ukrainian side. The Su-34 has been a glaring disappointment as Russia’s air force continues to struggle.  

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.



  1. Fluffy Dog

    May 11, 2022 at 7:22 pm

    The issue with taped-on GPS is not new. It was reported as being used in Syria. It’s just back then it was of no interest to the general public.
    The reason for taped-on GPSs is simple. Russian fighters use GLONAS, a Russian competitor to American GPS. It is less accurate and less reliable.

  2. Him

    May 11, 2022 at 8:47 pm

    We gain understanding of the Russian failure by seeing the characteristics of Russian people like Alex.

    From Alex, we learn that Russians act big and tough – but are stupid in their arguments. After all, it must be a decrepitly stupid, vodka-drunk people to let ruthless tyrants dominate them for 100 years.

    And even more stupid for people like Alex to cheer for people that have stamped out freedoms of the Russian people for 100 years.

    That type of stupidity is not limited to Alex, but reflects a Russian culture where force of anger is more common than intelligence and reasoning. Brute force of personality means there is no wisdom and insight.

    The Russian culture uses force, rather than innovation.

    Our interactions with Alex fully explain the failure of the Russian war machine. The Russian culture is filled with people like Alex. Alex is the normal Russian, which explains why Russia is such a failure.

    The fact Alex’s job is writing propaganda to prop up a failed brutal Dictatorship shows what a failure Alex is in life.

    Alex, you should instead be fighting to free your Russians from 100 years of Soviet slavery.

  3. Him

    May 11, 2022 at 8:55 pm

    A note to Russian trolls:

    – In 1776, America had a revolution to FREE them from tyranny.

    – In 1917, Russia had a revolution to put them under Communist Tyranny.

    This is the difference between the Western mind and the Soviet-Communist-Putin mind.

    The West loves freedom. Russia hates people being free.

    Russia rationalises enslaving the Ukrainians, Poles and Baltic states, by using elaborate lies – like the need to protect Russia’s borders, NATO being the aggressor etc.

    But the fact is, no one wants to attack Russia. This is the single biggest lie that keeps Russia in slavery. There is no greater lie that has been fed to Russia.

    Of course, now that Russia has proved itself to be such a bastard nation, it might be different now. But before, when Russia’s army was intact, no one wanted to attack.

  4. Alex

    May 12, 2022 at 10:16 am

    OK. In Ukraine, 10,000 Russian and 1,000 Russian tanks are destroyed every day. It’s not even funny to read, but it’s not interesting anymore. Let’s talk about the collapsed Russian economy:

    The Russian ruble has become the best world currency in 2022. On Thursday, May 12, Bloomberg reported.

    According to the latest data, the ruble has grown by 11 percent against the dollar since the beginning of 2022. Thus, it has become the leader among the 31 major currencies monitored by the agency’s experts.

    The strengthening of the currency came after the measures taken by the Russian government against the backdrop of Western sanctions, writes Bloomberg. It is clarified that the authorities introduced capital controls, and also obliged exporters to sell foreign exchange earnings. In particular, in March, the President of Russia announced a new procedure for paying for gas by European consumers.

    As similar examples, the authors of the article cite the Turkish lira and the Argentine peso, which failed to achieve maximum growth rates after the decisions of the governments of these countries. The Russian currency, on the contrary, responded well to the measures taken, Bloomberg experts conclude.

    Only facts, not squeals and fantasies of Bandera Nazis and Slavophobes.

    • Him

      May 12, 2022 at 10:47 pm

      Alex, if you’re going to copy and paste, just note that Russia’s losses are not 10,000 per day, but rather 10,000 per month. Please edit your copy and paste.

      As for tanks, it’s around 400 destroyed Russian tanks per month.

  5. Alex

    May 12, 2022 at 11:53 am

    Russia’s oil revenues have grown by 50% since the beginning of the year, despite trade restrictions imposed after the start of a special operation in Ukraine, writes Bloomberg citing a report by the International Energy Agency.

    “Russia has earned approximately $20 billion monthly since the beginning of 2022 from cumulative sales of oil and petroleum products at an export level of 8 million barrels per day,” the document says. As the IEA noted, supplies from Russia continue to flow despite the fact that the EU is currently discussing a ban on energy imports, and major international oil companies Shell and Total Energy promise to stop purchases.

    Russian energy resources are in high demand in Asia, especially in India and China. Experts emphasize that the reduction in the supply of refined products from Russia, such as diesel fuel, fuel oil and naphtha, has exacerbated tensions on world markets. At the same time, stocks of so-called middle distillates (some types of petroleum products that are obtained as a result of the distillation of hydrocarbons, including heating and marine fuels) are at their lowest level since 2008.

    Another collapse of the Russian economy. I am sure that in Russia they clap and thank you.

  6. Sankara Menon

    May 13, 2022 at 12:51 am

    It is rather hilarious to read the article and the comments thereon.
    Lets have facts right
    1. The West cornered Russia to go to war –
    2. The real war has not even started
    3. Ukraine are run by Nazis – USA and Canada had refused to train Azovs
    4. The West is using Ukraine as cat’s paw to weaken Russia. But chances are ALL will be weakened.
    5. USA – being the controller of media with strict censorship of stories from the other side – – so much on freedom of speech.
    As such we have only the western propaganda of Russian AF having been destroyed 25 times over. Ships being destroyed but resurrecting themselves in 1 day, Russian army destroyed completely etc.
    Lets take them with a truck load of Himalayan salt.
    Now on the invincibility of West, I remember, in 1971 the joint “armada” of USA and UK – Task force 74 of USA and UK portion had Aircraft carrier HMS Eagle heading it being dispatched to attack India, if needed, with the primary aim of rescuing the oh so innocent rose perfumed pink cherubic Pakistan army (uncles of Ukrainian Azovs) who had just sent 4 Million Hindus to heaven with another 3 million raped to produce cherubic half animals. What a humanitarian act!! That mere sight of a submarine ahead made the UK fleet commander Admiral Dimon Gordon, to the Seventh Fleet commander: “Sir, we are too late”. Then both task forces turned tail and ran. I had the pleasure of watching the turning of USS Enterprise from my perch in an AN-12 and send the first signal. “They are turning back”. If the West tried anything against India, now the result would be much more hilarious. To say Russia in nothing is nothing but pure propaganda non-sense. They have not yet opened front against NATO. If and when they do we will see another Another signal from another Admiral Dimon Gordon.
    Also understand only the white EU, Canada, USA and UK support this nonsense. 2/3rd of humanity DOES NOT.
    The end result will be a destroyed Ukraine cut asunder and western contractors smiling and rushing to bank with sacks of money to “reconstruct” Ukraine.
    The West realaising it is no longer uni-polar world and white colonial hegemony has ended.
    As for using GPS – the oh so democratic West denied us GPS when we were fighting Pakistan terrorist aggression by the little brothers of Azovs. We used ordinary maps on smart phones to guide us effectively and BTW thank you, now we have our own navigation system.

  7. Sankara Menon

    May 13, 2022 at 12:53 am

    Ha the proponents of Freedom of expression has censorship LOL

  8. Charlie

    May 20, 2022 at 2:35 pm

    GPS is stuck to the dashboard as backup in the event Glonass is jammed. Su34 is an excellent aircraft but like all 4th generation aircraft, it struggles against the S300 defense system.

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