“Hardest Hitting” Su-34 Fighter Remains Russia’s Top Warplane Despite ‘Staggering Loses’ – Expert

With its capability to fire glide bombs and destroy large Ukrainian formations, the Su-34 Fullback fighter bomber remains the most critical asset for the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) in the ongoing Ukraine War.

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The Russian Fullbacks take off from the Voronezh Malshevo air base, located just 100 kilometers from Ukraine’s borders, and launch powerful glide bombs on Ukrainian formations regularly, according to reports.

Ukrainian analysis group Frontelligence Insight explained recently: “It takes only minutes for a [Sukhoi] jet to reach the launch area near the border and then return to the base…The large number of jets stationed at the airfield enables the simultaneous deployment of bombs, allowing multiple targets in Ukrainian territory to be engaged at once.”

As seen on recently published satellite images, an aircraft is parked uncovered on the tarmac at Voronezh along with other combat aircraft and helicopters. The facility is comfortably within range of Ukraine’s US-manufactured Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), making the fighter jet a sitting duck for Ukraine. However, without US approval, Russian Su-34s remain safe from a possible strike.

The Su-34 has seen staggering losses in the conflict. This year started on an incredibly high note for Ukrainian air defense forces as they went on a rampage against the forward-deployed Fullback and allegedly shot down over two dozen of them.

Several experts warned that it was a setback that the Russians weren’t ready for and one that could not be offset. The verdict was clear: Russia cannot produce as many Su-34s as it is losing in the war with Ukraine.

Notwithstanding the losses, the aircraft is the ‘highest hitting’ fighter in Moscow’s arsenal. Military analyst and retired Indian Air Force officer, Squadron Leader Vijainder K. Thakur, a keen Russian military watcher, said: “Going purely by the operational record, the Su-34 is currently the hardest hitting and most cost-effective strike fighter in the world.”

“Its success in Ukraine, as a glide bomb delivery platform (battlefield support) with Kinzhal launch capability (interdiction), has spurred production and further development in Russia,” he added.

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Last month, the Russian forces started employing the FAB-3000 heavy-duty glide bomb for the first time.

In one of the first such attacks, a multi-story structure that Russian intelligence had identified as a staging base for Ukrainian soldiers was reportedly struck by a single FAB-3000 bomb dropped by a Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bomber equipped with pop-out wings and satellite guidance.

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Weighing over three metric tons, Russian analysts noted that the use of these heavy weapons indicated that the Russian troops were likely to expand operations against the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).

“Considering the substantial strike effect of this munition, its use can be recognized as successful. Further, it is necessary to scale up its use against key infrastructure facilities of the Ukrainian armed forces to provide for the successful advance,” military expert, Editor-in-Chief of the National Defense magazine Igor Korotchenko told TASS.

Russia has been firing its other glide bombs, including the FAB-500 and even the FAB-1500, on Ukraine for several months. However, the FAB-3000 can reportedly cause more destruction and damage to Ukrainian military formations and civilians.

Russia has increased production of the FAB series of bombs that have been devastating Ukraine’s frontlines after being converted to guided glide bombs with the Universal Module for Planning Correction (UMPC) kits.

The Su-34 Fullback is the designated carrier of these lethal munitions. This essentially means the losses have not slowed the momentum of the Russian Aerospace Force’s (RuAF) battlefield interdiction strikes. Such strikes will continue till Moscow captures all the breakaway Russian-speaking regions in Moscow’s east and south.

As previously reported by EurAsian Times, Russia has also test-fired a Kinzhal hypersonic aeroballistic missile from the Su-34, further expanding its arsenal and bolstering the Fullback’s firepower and combat capability. Earlier, the VKS had just one hypersonic carrier, the MiG-31K.

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Last year, the Su-34 frontline fighter bomber was upgraded to launch a long-range cruise missile capable of carrying a conventional or nuclear warhead. The Su-34 NVO (New Capabilities) fighter bomber variant implemented the upgrade. Although Russian media did not name the missile, experts stated that the newly integrated long-range cruise missile was likely to be the lethal and stealthy Kh-101.

Writing for EurAsian Times, Vijainder Thakur noted, “In a conflict with NATO, the SU-34 could carry two Kh-101 missiles, cruise undetected to its launch points, and launch the missiles from an unexpected direction. The ability of the Su-34 to launch the Kinzhal missile adds another strategic dimension, making the frontline bomber a credible deterrent.”

Moreover, after several Su-34 losses, the Ukrainian fighter pilots adopted new tactics to minimize damage to their prized aircraft.

Su-34 Russia
File Image: Su-34

The Su-34 pilots adopted a hi-lo-hi profile for bomb delivery to counter the increased range of Ukrainian Patriot interceptors. This method involves approaching the bomb release zone at low altitudes and high speeds, executing a steep climb, and then releasing the bombs at precalculated parameters to maximize range while minimizing exposure to adversary AD (Area Denial) systems.

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Ukraine has repeatedly flagged the massive threat posed by Russian Su-34 launching glide bombs. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement on June 30 that Russia attacked Ukraine with over 800 glide bombs in the previous week. Photos of the Russian strikes on the besieged cities of Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, Odesa, Sumy, Kherson, Donetsk, and Kharkiv were posted by the President.

“This week alone, Russia has used more than 800 guided aerial bombs against Ukraine. Against our cities and communities, against our people, against everything that makes life normal,” he said on X.