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Video: Russia’s Su-34 ‘Fullback’ Fighter Keeps Getting Shot Down in Ukraine

Russia Su-34
Russian Air Force Su-34 Fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

This week, Russia lost another Su-34 “Fullback” fighter jet when the airframe went down in flames over an occupied Ukrainian town in Donetsk.

The incident has been confirmed, but the cause of the fiery crash is still up for debate. Ukrainian Forces claim to have shot down the Fullback with a S-300 air defense system. However, the Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group reported that Russia shot down its own fighter. 

This long-touted Russian fighter has suffered greatly throughout the conflict. The Kremlin’s claims of the Fullback’s potential in combat have been soiled over the skies of Ukraine.

Perhaps the most memorable incident involving a Su-34 happened in the earliest days of the invasion, when a Ukrainian citizen reportedly brought down a fighter using a rifle. Notably, Moscow is believed to have lost up to 20 Fullbacks in the last year. 

The Fullback’s History in Russia’s Air Force

The Soviet-origin twin-seat, all-weather medium-range fighter first flew in the early 1990s and officially entered service with the Russian Air Force in 2014.

Originally conceptualized to replace the aging Su-24 “Fencer” airframe, the Fullback was expected to become Russia’s most able fighter.

Similar to other Russian fighters currently flying, the Su-34 is a descendent of the Su-27 “Flanker.” Russia’s Defense Ministry signed a three-year contract with the airframe’s manufacturer, Sukhoi, in 2020 for 20 new jets with specialized modifications. 

Design-wise, the Fullback has been dubbed the Platypus due to its easily distinguishable side-by-side cockpit, with the pilot seated on the left and a weapons systems operator on the right.

No other Flanker-family variant sports this layout. Five large multifunctional LCDs make the Fullback’s cockpit displays far more advanced than its Su-27 predecessor’s.

The airframe’s laser targeting system allows the Fullback to attack ground targets very accurately at all hours. Another easily distinguishable feature is the jet’s hefty tail sting, which extends beyond its dual engine exhausts and is significantly larger than the stings found on other Flanker variants. 

According to The Drive, some industry experts believe this unusual tail sting could contain a radar. In addition to serving as an early warning system for pilots, such a radar would also “include the ability to attack targets from the rear aspect.

This is likely the result of conflation with an experimental program in which heat-seeking K-74 (a development of the AA-11 Archer) air-to-air missiles were launched in a rear-firing mode from a Su-27.

There’s no evidence that the same was ever attempted from the Su-34 and the missile program had been abandoned by the mid-1990s.”

Why Aren’t Russia’s Su-34 Warplanes Firing Precision-Guided Missiles Over Ukraine?

When it comes to weapons, the Fullback can sport more than 17,000 pounds of munitions across 12 hardpoints positioned underwing and beneath the fuselage.

The fighter also features a 30mm GSh-30-I internal cannon and can launch two Vympel R-27, R-73, or NPO R-77 missiles.

The fighter can strike targets from low altitudes, which is probably why a rifle and Ukraine’s short-range missiles might have brought some down. 

Once the purported anchor of Russia’s aerial strategy over Ukraine, the Su-34 Fullback has become quite the disappointment.

Perhaps if a greater array of more lethal precision-guided missiles and bombs were provided for Fullbacks and fired from higher altitudes, the fleet of airframes would have better success.

Su-34 Fullback

Su-34 Fullback. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

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


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

Considering Russia’s monetary and equipment shortages, however, this is unlikely to happen. 

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Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

Written By

Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.