Russia’s Su-34 ‘Fullback’ fighter-bombers are undertaking classic ground attack roles their type was designed for, flying low in their bombing runs in textbook ‘air interdiction’ missions in northern and southern Ukraine, videos released by the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) show.
What is even more interesting is that they have destroyed Ukrainian logistics, light armored vehicles, trucks, and troop concentrations from altitudes where they would otherwise be vulnerable to Ukraine’s Western-origin medium and long-range Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) or even shoulder-fired Man-Portable Air Defense (MANPAD).
In these missions, however, based on the videos shot from inside the cockpit, the Su-34s can be concluded to be flying at altitudes between 1,000 and 3,000 feet.
MANPADS, which shot down several Su-34s initially in the war as previously reported by EurAsian Times, have between 5,000 and 8,000 meters (5 to 10 kilometers) ranges. According to the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) forum Oryx, Russia has lost 18 Su-34s since the beginning of the war.
Ukraine Exhausted AD Systems?
It suggests these systems are not available either because the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) has exhausted them or are awaiting Western replenishment or have been destroyed in the warehouses and ammunition storage facilities Russia often keeps targeting.
Nevertheless, it bears rapid tactical fluidity and adjustment by Russia. This itself can be a result of a good synergy between its on-ground Human Intelligence (HUMINT) in Ukraine and enhanced aerial Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities that inform them of the type of hardware wielded by the AFU.
A video released by the RuMoD on November 1 shows a Su-34 undergoing pre-flight checks by two pilots. It is seen carrying four unguided drop bombs — one on each of the middle inner-wing pylons and one each on the carrier/launcher under the engine intakes.
Russian Ministry of Defense videos from November 1, October 26, and October 19 show the Su-34 fighter bomber undertaking low-level bombing runs on Ukrainian targets. pic.twitter.com/EV5OfF2iMw
— EurAsian Times (@THEEURASIATIMES) November 3, 2023
On a different note, the moving canards during the pre-flight checks remind one instantly of the similar feature on the Su-30MKI of the Indian Air Force.
It is fascinating how the Russians took the basic airframe of the Su-27 and, with the requisite modifications to the cockpit and the ‘duckbill’ nose, evolved it into a highly versatile ground attack, tactical bomber, and air interdiction fighter bomber.
Russian Ministry of Defense videos from November 1, October 26, and October 19 show the Su-34 fighter bomber undertaking low-level bombing runs on Ukrainian targets. pic.twitter.com/EZQDdBLyBR
— EurAsian Times (@THEEURASIATIMES) November 3, 2023
The video then shows feed from an on-board ground targeting an electro-optical pod, showing a massive explosion on the sectioned plain fields. The RuMoD said this was in the “Kherson direction,” where Su-34s “perform tasks of air patrol and cover the actions of the Armed Forces at any time of the day and in any weather.” In this mission, the Russian pilots wiped out AFU’s fortified positions with aerial bombs.
One of the Russian pilots interviewed said the action was performed based on the coordinates received from the command post. “Then the flight route was calculated, taking the coordinates of another target, which were quickly received, and then a reset was also performed.”
It is unclear if the command post is a ground-based or an aerial asset, but a land element behind the kill chain cannot be denied for ‘battlefield interdiction’ missions.
A video from October 26 shows a pilot performing pre-flight checks and ground crew fixing unguided bombs. It is to be noted that in both the videos, the Su-34s are not carrying any other ordnance except for the unguided drop bombs.
It is also seen carrying the Khibiny-M electronic countermeasures pods on the wingtips, suggesting it is the modernized Su-34M variant.
However, in the middle of the video, the camera on the wing shows the payload, a bomb, with a blurred-out bottom part, suggesting it is the Universal Module for Planning and Correction (UMPC).
Russia has introduced the gliding and automatic guidance kit on many of its drop bombs, especially the FAB-500M52, which increases the bombs’ range and makes them immune to many air defense systems.
The bomb is shown being released, and footage from its nose camera shows it approaching the ground target at an angle, confirming it ‘glided’ to the target. This action was in “south Donetsk,” according to the RuMoD.
There, the Su-34 “wiped out Ukrainian militants…and strongholds” by “performing air patrol and covering the actions of the armed forces.” The “stronghold” could be considered a ground fortification and bunker.
Again, on October 27, the Su-34 “launched strikes against temporary deployment areas and clusters of manpower and hardware of the AFU 43rd Mechanized Brigade close to Petropavlovsk and Stepovaya Novosyolovka” in Kharkiv.
The same area also saw the RuMoD reporting on October 24 about Su-34s hitting “temporary deployment areas and the command observation posts on the AFU 41st, 43rd Mechanized, 57th Motorized Infantry brigades, 15th Border Detachment and 7th Separate Rifle Battalion.” It mentioned other areas like Kovsharovka, Glushkovka, Peschanoye, and Nevskoye, besides Stepovaya Novosyolovka.
‘Go Low, Aim, Drop & Pull Up’
A video on October 19 showed a Su-34 taking off with four bombs, one on each of the inner-wing pylons and one under the engine intakes, and a targeting pod directly showing a massive explosion on the ground. The official description of the action was a rare statement, flush with the details of the tactics employed.
“The crew got the target coordinates, made the necessary calculations, assessed the terrain in the target area, and flew at an extremely low altitude. A few kilometers before the target, the aircraft performed a speed acceleration, a jump, a bombing run, aiming at the target, dropped the bombs, took extremely low altitudes, and returned to the home airfield.”
A subsequent update the same day could be a further expansion on the same Su-34 action in the video, with details of the location and the Ukrainian losses.
“Russia’s Su-34 fighter-bombers hit AFU command and observation posts close to Serebryanka. The enemy losses in this direction amounted to over 50 troops, two armored fighting vehicles, and two pick-up trucks.”