TechRussian Su-34 bombers: Ukraine's second nightmare after missiles

Russian Su‑34 bombers: Ukraine's second nightmare after missiles

Russian S-34 with four suspended FAB-500 bombs with UMPK modules.
Russian S-34 with four suspended FAB-500 bombs with UMPK modules.
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Przemysław Juraszek

23 June 2024 13:18

Russian Su-34 tactical bombers represent the second critical problem for Ukrainians, after ballistic missiles, that they are struggling to deal with. We explain why the Su-34 and its payload are so dangerous.

An image of a Russian Su-34 tactical bomber with four mounted FAB-500 guided bombs and UMPK modules has appeared online. These, aside from ballistic missiles, pose a significant problem, enabling the Russians to destroy even the heaviest Ukrainian fortifications.

These are old aerial bombs, each FAB-500 weighing approximately 500 kilogrammes, to which the Russians have attached UMPK (Unified Planning and Correction Module) kits containing a satellite navigation module and foldable wings. These are copies of the American JDAM-ER bombs capable of attacking from even 70 kilometres and hitting targets accurately within a few metres to several dozen metres.

This means that little remains at the point of impact, and a drop from over 30 kilometres ensures that the aircraft carrying them are out of reach of short-range anti-aircraft systems. The solution here lies in medium-range systems capable of engaging aircraft at distances over 100 kilometres, such as the Patriot, SAMP/T, or S-300, which Ukraine has too few of or has run out of missiles for.

Su-34 - a key asset for the Russians

The Su-34 is an evolution of the Su-27 fighter jet, adapted for striking ground targets. Besides enlarging the structure, the Russians have also armoured the pilot's cabin to protect against ground fire. It has a unique layout, with the pilots sitting side-by-side rather than in a tandem configuration (one behind the other). The Russians believe this design improves cooperation between the pilots.

Due to its role, the Su-34 can carry up to 8,000 kilogrammes of armament on 12 pylons. Notably, six can carry FAB-500 bombs, and three can handle the 1,500-kilogramme FAB-1500 bombs. Additionally, it is theoretically possible for it to have one FAB-3000 bomb. The Su-34 is also equipped with a GSz-30-1 cannon of 30 mm calibre.

As a result, destroying each Su-34 aircraft is extremely valuable for the Ukrainians. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russia had just over 130 Su-34 jets, with a unit cost of around $47 million (2008 data, adjusted for inflation). So far, losses of these aircraft amount to at least 30 units, which is a significant depletion for the Russian Air Force.

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