Russia's 'Duckbill': Su-34 combines features of both bomber and fighter
The new multirole aircraft can perform aerobatic maneuvers and strike well-defended targets with its high-precision weapons with equal ease.
In the Russian army, the Su-34 (NATO reporting name Fullback) has been dubbed the "Duckling" or the "Duckbill" because of the flattened shape of its nosecone. More than a 100 such planes are already on combat duty in the Russian Aerospace Forces, and some of them are being actively employed in Syria against Islamic State terrorists.
"The Su-34 is an unusual aircraft. With its sweeping contours and canard foreplane, it looks very much like a fighter plane in external appearance. But in capabilities, it is a real workhorse, capable of carrying eight tons of high-precision bombs or cruise missiles at a time," RBTH was told by Izvestiya newspaper's military analyst Dmitry Safonov.
Moreover, the airplane can fly 7,000 km without refueling and close in on its target literally "head on," destroying everything in its path.
The airplane can fly 7,000 km without refueling and close in on its target literally "head on," destroying everything in its path. Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighters. Source: Vadim Savitsky/Global Look Press
In the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Su-34 replaces two types of bombers at once: The tactical Su-24 and even the much larger, long-distance Tu-22M3.
"In terms of its combat specifications, it’s not just better, but radically exceeds them. Its design is based on the legendary Su-27. That is where the bomber gets its sweeping fuselage shape, making it supermaneuverable for such a heavy plane; but it has lost out on speed," the expert said.
Unlike the Su-27, the new aircraft only does 2,000 km/h. But it can cope with high G-loads, allowing it to perform maneuvers far superior to any other bomber in the world.
The 'Duckling' and its mod cons
Unlike its prototype, the pilots are not seated one behind the other in the cockpit, but, as befits a bomber, they sit side by side. This layout significantly improves the ergonomics of the working area and simplifies the interaction of crew members on long flights.
"As can be expected of a 'big' bomber, the Duckling’s cockpit has other mod cons designed to make a lengthy flight comfortable. For instance, a kitchen with microwave oven, and a toilet. Odd though it may seem, such things are rarely available on military airplane," Safonov said.
He added that only the Tu-160 Beliy Lebed strategic bomber can boast such a system today. "And the no less long-distance and large-sized Tu-95 and the Il-76 transport plane only have a bucket," he added.
Another perk of the Su-34 is that, just as in large planes, there is enough space inside the cockpit for members of the crew to stand upright, or lie down to relax. There is enough room for this between the pilots' seats.
Special features of the Su-34
These are all gimmicks, however. The main point of the Duckling is its ability to bomb and destroy all targets with maximum effectiveness.
The bomber can operate day and night in the most difficult weather and in the face of electronic countermeasures.
Sukhoi Su-34 of Russian Air Force performes its aerobatic program. Source: Artyom Anikeev/Global Look Press
For the first time in the history of aviation, the cockpit of a tactical bomber has been designed in the form of a very tough one-piece armored capsule. The aircraft's crew and its most essential systems are protected by 17-mm titanium armor. This allows the crew to literally storm targets which are well protected behind concrete or armor with a frontal attack without fear of return fire. The cockpit of the Su-34 can withstand direct hits from 30-mm rounds.
Furthermore, the aircraft itself is fitted with very powerful electronic countermeasures. When they are switched on, air defense systems and high-precision weapons are rendered completely ineffective.
"There’s no way of stopping a Su-34 that is swooping on its target - even if it is attacked ‘from behind’ - as what happened when the Turkish air force shot down a Russian Su-24 in Syria. One of the features of the Su-34 is its rearward-facing radar, whose job it is to check for anyone approaching from behind. In the event of danger, the system will sound the alarm and will aim the plane's air-to-air missiles. In the ensuing salvo the pursuer's fate will be sealed," RBTH was told by the editor-in-chief of the Arsenal Otechestva magazine, Viktor Murakhovsky.
The 'Duckbil’s' weapons
He explained that the Su-34 has 12 hardpoints for up to eight tons of ordnance.
"They are gravity bombs and free-flight rocket packs. Guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles can also be hung out on the 'drying rack.' The ordnance can also be replaced with electronic warfare systems, additional fuel tanks or aerial combat weapons, as on the Su-27," Murakhovsky added. A 30-mm cannon is also installed on the bomber.
According to Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov, who is responsible for the supply of weapons and equipment, the Russian Aerospace Forces will receive at least 200 Su-34s in the future.
The attack Duckling will not just replace two types of bomber but will also give the Russian Air Force new capabilities. Aside from bombs and air-to-surface missiles, the airplane can also employ anti-ship weapons - Kh-31/35 cruise missiles or the supermodern Yakhont.
All this is why the Su-34's appearance in the skies above the Baltic and Barents seas is causing such a stir.