The Russian military is employing the Su-25 and Su-34 fighter jets in pairs during combat missions in eastern Ukraine, according to reports from the field by Russian media outlets.
Izvestia, a Russian daily broadsheet newspaper, reported on February 28 that crew of the Su-25 attack aircraft and Su-34 fighters of the Eastern Military District (VVO) often work together during the combat missions of the special operation to defend Donbas.
“Why do we work in pairs the call sign ‘Key’ explained to an Izvestia correspondent.
According to Izvestia, such mutual assistance is critical in circumstances of active electronic warfare, when because of jamming, an aircraft’s navigation system may stop functioning correctly.
Furthermore, a follower aircraft also comes to the aid of the attacking or ‘leading’ aircraft and covers them from above when the attacking aircraft has to fly at very low altitudes to destroy enemy ground targets, in which case, the plane becomes vulnerable to hostile Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).
The Su-25 Grach (‘Rook’) is Soviet-era close air support (CAS) aircraft known by the NATO reporting name Frogfoot. As EurAsian Times discussed, the Russian Su-25 fleet has suffered the most losses of any fixed-wing tactical jet used in the ongoing war.
Change In Russian Air Warfare Tactics
So far, Russia is known to have lost at least 28 Su-25s, according to the figures compiled by the military tracking blog Oryx based on visual confirmations. Of those 28, three are believed to have been destroyed in non-combat-related incidents.
These heavy losses suffered by the Russian Su-25 fleet can be attributed to its wide deployment for ground attacks using tactics that require the fighter pilots to fly their aircraft dangerously close to the ground, mainly to avoid detection by the enemy’s radar systems.
However, there has been an observed decline in Russian Su-25 losses, according to experts who recently spoke to EurAsian Times.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) November 1, 2022
“RuAF is now using better tactics, as a result of which Su-25 losses are now rare. The Su-25 variants provide ground support under cover of Su-35S and Su-30SM,” veteran Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter pilot Vijainder Thakur (Retd) told EurAsian Times correspondent recently.
While the Su-35S and Su-30SM are Russia’s most advanced multirole fighters, the recent Izvestia reports also discuss the Su-34 covering the Su-25.
The Su-34 Fullback, also one of Russia’s most advanced fighter aircraft, is a strike aircraft with a range of 600 miles (around 966 kilometers) and a weapons payload of 12 tons, including bombs and missiles for ground attack and air-to-air missiles.
Since both Su-25 and Su-34 are strike aircraft, they are better suited to complement each other than some multirole warplanes.
This is because even the Russian Su-34s are known to have suffered at least 16 losses during hostilities, and most of these losses can be attributed to low-flying tactics employed by the fighter. One of them is the upgraded Su-34M, which is reportedly a case of friendly fire.
While the Fullback is highly equipped to conduct precision air-to-surface strikes from stand-off ranges, as EurAsian Times discussed earlier, the aircraft is mainly employed for old-fashioned seek-and-destroy missions, which involve the plane going to the target area, visually acquiring the target, and then attacking.
The severe depletion of its inventory of precision-guided munitions has prompted the Russian military to rely heavily on unguided bombs. The Russian fighters must fly low to deliver these, making them vulnerable to the MANPADS.
Also important to note here is that even the Ukrainian Air Force has been widely employing the Su-25 for close air support missions and attacking Russian ground positions, and MiG-29 multirole fighters also escort Ukrainian Su-25s.
A Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter by the call sight ‘Juice’ said in December that among the various sorties he undertakes, some involve escort missions to protect air-to-surface attack platforms like Su-25 while operating closer to the frontlines.
A video on social media shows a pair of Ukrainian Su-25s being accompanied by a MiG-29 at a low level. However, when asked about the video, Juice explained that it is not representative of an actual mission but rather a ‘parade’ formation employed by the aircraft while returning from the front lines.
?? A pair of Su-25 attack aircraft under the cover of a MiG-29 fighter is returning from a combat mission ? pic.twitter.com/EOPP2hu8xV
— ??Ukrainian Front (@front_ukrainian) December 8, 2022
“It’s absolutely not efficient to fly like that on the battlefield,” Juice observes. “Of course, I couldn’t tell you the real tactics, but it looks absolutely different.”