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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

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

Su-34. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Su-34. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russia’s Su-34 Is No Game Changer in Ukraine

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.

Su-34 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.

Su-34 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 aircraft 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 aircraft is having so much trouble over Ukraine.

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 aircraft 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.