Until the end of this year, the Russian Air Force will be replenished with 14 Su-34 front-line bombers. This was reported by the leadership of the United Aircraft Corporation during a meeting held at an aircraft factory in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, which was attended by the Deputy Minister of Defense for armaments, Yuri Borisov. According to representatives of the KLA, the 2014 state defense order will be completed by the latest bomber, and next year 16 vehicles will be delivered.
Very optimistic plans, because last year the state defense order for the Su-34 was in jeopardy, and the Defense Ministry, through the court, charged a forfeit from the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant bombers for disrupting delivery dates. Remained dissatisfied with the first serial "thirty-four" flight and technical staff of the Air Force. There were a lot of claims, in particular, some of the onboard equipment did not work, there were problems with the Khibiny electronic warfare complexes, etc.
Useless in modern conflict
For the Russian Air Force, the Su-34 is one of the most anticipated vehicles. Able to strike with high precision weaponsequipped with a powerful Sh-141 airborne radar station with a phased array, an effective complex of electronic countermeasures, thermal imaging and television detection and tracking channels, the “thirty-fourth” should become an effective means of combating enemy ground targets, replacing the obsolete Su-24M. The experience of the August 2008 war with Georgia, where the front-line aviation achieved limited results, showed that the Russian Air Force is in dire need of a bomber capable of hitting targets with precision weapons, without entering the enemy’s air defense strike zone. Some experts attribute the participation of the Su-34 from the 4th Aviation Personnel Training Center in Lipetsk to the conflict with Georgia. It is believed that on the account of these machines is the Georgian radar hit by the X-31 missile. At the same time, the representative of the Russian Air Force told the newspaper "VPK" that this is not so.
“Su-34 was tested with an anti-radar missile only in 2010 year. All five radars that we knocked out are accounted for by conventional Su-24 front-guns, ”the Russian Air Force officer who participated in the conflict told the publication. According to him, if the Su-34 were able to fight in the conflict, then the machines should not have been used against radars, but to destroy ground targets.
“Even a weak Georgian air defense force“ flunked ”the Glitsevsky Su-24 (Su-24М from 929-th GLITS, shot down on August 9) with two experienced pilots when he attacked an artillery position. The Su-24 was not guided bombs or missiles and normal sighting system. And the crew had to descend under the gun of Georgian rockets and strike, ”the source told the VPC newspaper.
Su-34 with its high-tech radar, television and thermal imaging channels will cope in this situation much more efficiently. But recent experience in the combat use of new bomber proved the opposite. The Hard Ingushetia online blog has a photo of Immarat Kavkaz’s base camp of militants destroyed by an air strike. This is the work of the Su-34 Russian Air Force.
“Su-34 encountered great difficulties in striking in difficult mountainous and wooded areas. The radar could not find the target in such conditions, and the thermal and television channels turned out to be with a limited field of view. They coped with the task, but with great difficulty, ”said a serviceman of the Southern Military District, familiar with the situation.
According to the interlocutor, the basis of the sighting complex "thirty-fourth" - high-tech radar W-141 was in such conditions useless. The crew could not find the desired target in the picture, clogged by the reflection of various objects on the ground, and the front bomber was forced to descend to search for the object. Fortunately, the militants have no air defense. But NPP "Leninets", which created the radar, is not guilty in this situation. W-141 is a unique product capable of detecting targets with low EPR at a distance of 150 – 200 kilometers. Su-34, created as the best strike bomber of the Cold War, capable of breaking through NATO's low-level air defense and destroying both mobile and stationary targets, is useless in a modern war.
From radar to thermal imager and camera
The Vietnam War in many ways changed the face of modern combat aviation. At the beginning of the conflict, the pilots of the aircraft, striking with unguided bombs and rockets, aimed using radar or bomb sights, but already in 1973, the targets detected by television cameras and thermal imagers were hit by bombs and missiles with television and laser targeting heads.
The main objective of the main strike aircraft of the USA 60-s F-105 “Thunderchiff” was striking radio-contrast targets (buildings, bridges, columns of equipment) with nuclear or conventional bombs from medium altitudes and at high speeds. For its time, the sighting complex "Thunderchief", built around the radar, was a work of art. But in Vietnam, the radars were useless, the pilots had to strike, visually using bomb sights. With the emergence of North-Vietnamese air defense systems C-75, the Thunderchips had to descend to low altitudes, where the F-105 created for supersonic flights at medium and high altitudes often reached critical flight conditions, which led to accidents, and the pilots simply did not managed to detect targets on time. Added small-caliber anti-aircraft artillery (MZA) problems, machine guns and Strela MANPADS that appeared at the end of the war, if they were not shot down, then they caused significant damage to fighter-bombers.
The United States Air Force had to pay attention to the development of guided aviation aids and sighting systems with high-resolution optics to detect ground targets.
Against the background of the problems with “Thunderchiefs” and “Phantoms”, fighter-bombers with the variable geometry of the Ad-Fk F-111 wing showed high performance. Equipped with a system of enveloping the terrain of the Advarki area at low altitudes at night and in adverse weather conditions, they struck land objects with already known coordinates.
In 1973, the Americans conducted an operation to destroy the strategic targets in North Vietnam - Lainbacker-2. The United States Air Force massively used bombs with laser and television guidance systems, as well as sighting containers Pave Tek and Pave Penny for target detection and targeting highly accurate TSA. American attack aircraft carried out almost all combat missions at medium and high altitudes, suppressing North Vietnamese air defenses with anti-radar missiles and EW.
At the beginning of the 80-s, F-111 began to be equipped with sighting containers. As conceived by the US military, Adwarki should break through air defense at low altitude using radar for navigation. Having found the target, complete the set, take it to the escort with a suspended sighting container and hit it with a guided bomb or a rocket. So did the European fighter-bombers "Tornado" IDS, equipped with the same sighting equipment.
Without having fought the Soviet army, F-111 and Tornado practiced Iraq in 1991, where they encountered great difficulties. Iraqis shot down MZA with five Tornadoes operating at low altitudes. F-111, working on three - five thousand meters, was without loss.
The F-111 "Advark" was replaced by the F-15E, which also participated, but not entirely successfully, in the war with Iraq. "Strike Eagle" was originally created for the use of high-precision weapons using the latest sighting container LANTIRN. But in Iraq, F-15E, which did not receive containers, struck conventional and cluster bombs from low altitudes, losing several vehicles from MZA and MANPADS. The AN / APG-15 BRLS installed on the F-70 was used for air combat, and the AN / AAQ-13 suspended container included in the LANTIRN was used for orientation and mapping of the terrain.
In 90, in Yugoslavia, Strike Needles already operated at altitudes of five to six thousand meters. Now, the US Air Force has upgraded the Eagle, installing the updated Sniper suspension container with Raytheon radar with synthetic aperture AN / ASQ-236.
The current experience of the US and NATO air forces shows that strikes against ground targets due to the threat of MZA and MANPADS are inflicted from six to seven thousand meters, stationary air defense is destroyed by cruise missiles, and strike machines are accompanied by special fighter-bombers that suppress air defense and EW aircraft. The last time tactical aircraft bombed the enemy using radar in 1993 year in Yugoslavia.
Since the 60-s in the USSR Air Force, the low-altitude air defense breakthrough became the basis of the combat work of strike aircraft. If the Su-7 was hit using visual sights, then the more modern Su-17, MiG-23BN and MiG-27 were equipped with radar aiming complexes.
The Soviet response to the F-111 - a front bomber with variable geometry wing Su-24 struck in adverse weather conditions, as well as at night, performing an enemy air defense breakthrough at a low altitude in the rounding mode of the terrain. To search for targets, the Su-24 used radar, supplemented by a laser rangefinder and a television system.
Su-24 in 1988 year went to Afghanistan. Here the results were not as positive and encouraging. Due to the use of the Mujahideen MZA and Stinger MANPADS, the Su-24М 755 and 143 th bombing regiments operating from Soviet airfields struck from six to seven thousand meters with ordinary free-falling bombs. Even the upgraded PNS-24М “Tiger” radar sighting system turned out to be useless, since it could not distinguish small targets against the background of the earth. Attempt to apply adjustable bombs KAB-500l and KAB-1500l failed. The power of television systems was not enough to distinguish objects on the ground and take them to the accompaniment. Su-17M and Mig-27 fighter-bombers faced the same difficulties. The experience of war and exercises in Europe, as well as the analysis of foreign information sources, forced the USSR Air Force Command to replace the Su-24 with a specialized bomber, an analogue of the American F-15 "Strike Eagle", for the use of high-precision means of aviation destruction.
A new bomber must operate at low altitudes with a climb to hit a target and then descend. Unlike the US military, who believed that the radar is needed for orientation and flying in the rounding mode of the terrain, the command of the USSR Air Force made a bet on the radar sighting system, however, supplemented by more modern television and laser systems. Western military experts in the 80-ies believed that to suppress the MZA and MANPADS, it was enough to equip the strike machines with cluster munitions, but the command of the USSR Air Force demanded that the new bomber should be booked out of the Su-25 attack aircraft. To protect against enemy fighters and NATO air defense systems, a promising front-line bomber was equipped with EW equipment. All these requirements formed the basis of the new aircraft, which later became the Su-34.
At the time of the formation of the requirements in the 1989, the new bomber, which had a number of qualitative advantages over the F-15 and F-111, would have been the best cold war aircraft in its class. NATO experts planned the work of the Advark and Strike Eagles under the cover of fighters, EW planes and the so-called Wilde Wizlow, equipped to suppress the air defense of F-4 fighter-bombers. The Soviet Air Force believed that a promising front-line bomber should act independently, not hoping for help. From fighters and air defense to cover up the EW and the terrain, reach the target with a radar sighting system, hit it, and if you came under fire from the MPA and MANPADS, then return to the airfield. For the realities of 80's and European theaters, the new bomber would be a breakthrough machine.
In 1991, the USSR broke up. In the 1992, the Sukhoi Design Bureau developed the deck fighter-bomber Su-32FN, which after a few years became Su-34. The first cars arrived in the Air Force at the end of 90's, but mass deliveries began only in 2011. All this time, the Su-34 remained the perfect front-line bomber during the Cold War. The integrated aerodynamic scheme with front horizontal tail (GIP) ensures stable flight and excellent maneuverability at low altitude even with suspended armament, which the 4-10 pilots showed very well on the MAKS-2013 demonstration flights. Powerful radar W-141 detects small targets at altitudes of up to four thousand meters, the titanium cockpit makes pilots and avionics electronic equipment invulnerable from anti-aircraft artillery fire and small arms from the ground. The Eib Khibiny complex protects a front bomber not only from aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles, but also from MANPADS. For their tasks, the Su-34 is much better than the F-15. But now the concept of strike aircraft has changed and the merits of the Su-34 have become its flaws.
Modern percussion machines, avoiding fire from the ground, climb to a height of five to six thousand meters. At this altitude, the Su-34 immediately loses its advantage in the operation of the radar complex, which is unable to distinguish subtle targets - single vehicles and armored objects, groups of people and field fortifications, hidden by the terrain. But the reduction to two or three kilometers does not guarantee the detection of such targets, which proved the recent combat use in Ingushetia. Here we need cameras and thermal imagers, which the Su-34 does not have high capabilities, being significantly inferior not only to the modern American Sniper, but also to the outdated LANTIRN and the cheaper French Damoclu. At the same time, in terms of weight and dimensions, as well as energy consumption, the sighting system Su-34 is several times larger than the foreign analogues that fit in the outboard containers.
Even booked Su-25 ground attack aircraft with a simple on-board radio-electronic complex often became a victim of an air defense and MANPADS fire in both Afghanistan and Georgia. The cockpit will save the pilots, but if they are hit by an anti-aircraft missile, small arms fire and small-caliber artillery of important systems, the aircraft will have to leave. Save the Su-34 can only fly at an unattainable height, but the armor only increases the weight of the machine and leads to excessive fuel consumption, reduced flight range and weight of the combat load. The US Air Force and NATO countries have long concluded that it is necessary not to book the plane, but to minimize the possibility of hitting it.
Many aviation experts, without denying the problems, say that for a big war with a high-tech adversary like the US and NATO, the Su-34 will be able to realize all its possibilities for a low-altitude breakthrough. Modern DRLO airplanes such as the American E-3 “Sentry” will easily be detected even by the Su-34 hiding behind the background of the earth. Multispectral MANPADS of the type tested by the now American Stinger and French Mistral models are guaranteed to hit the front bomber, so you will still have to go to great heights. The enemy EW complexes, if they are not “crushed”, will create big problems for Sh-141, so you will have to use weapons only on thermal imaging and television guidance channels. The work of the radar sighting system, taking into account modern means of electronic reconnaissance, will become a unmasking factor for a bomber warning the enemy of its presence. Without suppressing the enemy’s air defenses and destroying his Su-34 fighter aircraft, despite the titanium cockpit, the modern radar and the EW complex, not the tenant. Fortunately, if you can reach the goal.
It is clear that the Russian Air Force today has no alternative. Urgently need to change the fleet of obsolete front-line bombers Su-24M. At the same time, of the entire fleet of the Air Force, despite its shortcomings, the Su-34 sighting system is now the most advanced.
Su-34 is the best aircraft of the Cold War, ending 20 years ago. Therefore, the leadership of the KLA would have to think about how to make it the best strike aircraft of our time, and not to rush around with the ideas of 80's.