The Su-34 Fullback bomber, a twin-seater with a distinctive “duckbill” nose cone, has become a mainstay of Russian air operations in Ukraine.

However, mounting losses of these sophisticated aircraft raise concerns about Russia’s ability to maintain air superiority and highlight its challenges in the protracted conflict.

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) reports compiled by investigative groups and media outlets suggest Russia has lost as many as 26 Su-34s since the war’s outbreak in February 2022.

Verifying these numbers definitively is difficult amidst the fog of war, but the trend paints a concerning picture for Russia.

 

Vulnerability at Lower Altitudes

Military analysts attribute these losses to several factors.

The Su-34, designed for long-range strike missions, typically operates at lower altitudes compared to fighter jets. This makes it a more inviting target for Ukrainian air defense systems, which have demonstrably improved in effectiveness throughout the war.

Ukrainian forces have also reportedly utilized drone strikes against Russian airbases, potentially catching Su-34s on the ground and vulnerable.

Russia Adapts Tactics with Long-Range Missiles

In response, Russia appears to be adapting its tactics.

Recent reports indicate the deployment of Su-34s equipped with longer-range glide bombs and cruise missiles. This allows the bombers to strike targets from a safer distance, potentially mitigating further losses.

But Can Russia Sustain These Losses?

The war in Ukraine has undoubtedly morphed into a war of attrition, with both sides enduring significant casualties in personnel and equipment.

Russia’s larger industrial base allows it to replace lost Su-34s to a certain degree, but the exact rate of production remains unclear.

Furthermore, pilot training for these complex aircraft is a lengthy and resource-intensive process, meaning lost crews cannot be easily replaced.

Uncertain Future for Russia’s Airpower

The long-term sustainability of Su-34 losses remains a major question mark for Russia.

While the Kremlin continues to hold significant territory in eastern Ukraine, its initial ambitions of a swift victory have been dashed.

The ability to maintain air superiority and effectively deploy its remaining Su-34s will be crucial for Russia’s future actions in the conflict.

For Ukraine, continued advancements in air defense capabilities and potentially acquiring longer-range weaponry from Western allies could further tip the scales in its favor.

Su-34 Losses: A Microcosm of Wider Challenges

The Su-34 losses are a microcosm of Russia’s wider challenges in Ukraine.

While its larger military possesses a significant advantage in raw power, Western support for Ukraine and Russia’s own logistical and tactical shortcomings have hampered its progress.

The coming months will likely see a continued struggle for air dominance, with the fate of the Su-34 potentially playing a pivotal role in shaping the course of the war.

Disclaimer: SOFREP utilizes AI for image generation and article research. Occasionally, it’s like handing a chimpanzee the keys to your liquor cabinet. It’s not always perfect and if a mistake is made, we own up to it full stop. In a world where information comes at us in tidal waves, it is an important tool that helps us sift through the brass for live rounds.