Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Sukhoi Su-34 has undeniably made headlines, not only for its apparent formidability but also for its frequent crashes.

The Sukhoi Su-34, NATO codenamed “Fullback,” is among the world’s most formidable and versatile twin-seat, twin-engine fighter-bomber aircraft developed by Russia’s Sukhoi Corporation. It has earned a reputation as a symbol of Russian military power, combining advanced technology with robust design features.

From Concept to Combat Deployment

The development of the Su-34 Fullback began in the late 1980s as a response to the need for a modern, all-weather, long-range strike aircraft to replace the aging swing-wing Su-24 Fencer fleet. Sukhoi, the renowned Russian aircraft manufacturer, embarked on a design program to create a capable aircraft that could perform a variety of missions, including precision strikes, interdiction, and electronic warfare.

The Su-34, derived from the Su-27 Flanker—naval trainer variant “T10KM-2” specifically—airframe, features a sleek, aerodynamic design optimized for low-level flight and high-speed operations. Its distinctive duckbill nose houses a terrain-following radar and electro-optical targeting system, which allows for precise navigation at low altitudes and in adverse weather conditions.

Su-34 Cockpit
Su-34’s Cockpit Simulator (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

After years of murky development, the aircraft finally made its maiden flight in the early 1990s as the Su-27IB. About three years later, in 1995, its now-known designation, the Su-32, was announced. Limited funding caused a delay in the pre-production of the aircraft, and the trials and evaluations for the eight units took place only in 2004. Ultimately, the fighter-bomber entered service in the Russian Air Force a decade later, in 2014, with more or less 155 units built.

Operational Triumphs and Its Impact in Global Conflicts

Upon entering service, the Su-32 Fullback has been a key player in various military operations. Its combat debut occurred during the Russian military intervention in Syria, where it first showcased its exceptional capabilities. Some notable aspects of its operational history include:

  • Syrian Conflict: The Su-34 played a vital role in the Syrian conflict in 2015, conducting precision strikes against ISIS targets. Its ability to carry a wide range of guided munitions, including air-to-surface missiles and precision-guided bombs, made it a formidable asset in the campaign against terrorism.
  • Combat Versatility: One of the Su-34’s strengths is its adaptability to different mission profiles. It can perform suppression of enemy air defenses, conduct electronic warfare, and engage both ground and aerial targets. This versatility has made it an indispensable tool for the Russian military.
  • Long-Range Operations: The Su-34’s impressive range allows it to conduct missions far from its home base, reducing the need for aerial refueling. This capability enhances its effectiveness in extended operations and contributes to its status as a long-range strike platform.
  • Participation in the Invasion of Ukraine: Most recently, footage of Sukhoi Su-34s participating in the onset of the invasion made rounds online, reportedly seen flying over the Kharkiv region. As the war drags on, the aircraft continues to be spotted hovering over Ukraine’s airspace—some will inevitably be downed by Ukrainian forces.

Su-34 Technical Specifications: Power, Speed, Range, and Armament

The Sukhoi Su-34 is distinguished by its remarkable technical specifications, making it a versatile performer across various roles. Among its key specifications, the Su-34 is propelled by two AL-31FM after-burning turbofan engines, each delivering an impressive 14,500 kgf (142 kN) of thrust, ensuring exceptional acceleration and maneuvering capabilities. This aircraft achieves a maximum speed of approximately Mach 1.8 (equivalent to 1,900 km/h or 1,180 mph) at high altitudes. In terms of range, it boasts a combat radius of around 1,100 kilometers (equivalent to 680 miles) on internal fuel, with the option to extend this range further through aerial refueling.

Su-34 three-view illustration
Su-34 three-view illustration (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Regarding armament, the Su-34 is highly versatile—capable of carrying an extensive range of air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles, guided and unguided bombs, as well as electronic countermeasures. Notable among its arsenal are the Kh-31 anti-ship missile and the Kh-59M cruise missile.