Russia will commence a modernization program for the Su-34 in 2018
14th Mar 2017
The collapse of Russia’s arms industry in the 1990s really hurt the SU-34’s development, but it has recovered. A development journey that began with the aircraft’s maiden flight in 1990, as the T10V/SU-27IB, ended in with 2010 deliveries and fielding under a 5-year production contract, followed by a 2012 full rate production order.
RIA Novosti put the plane’s mission simply: “The Su-34 is meant to deliver a sufficiently large ordnance load to a predetermined area, hit the target accurately and take evasive action against pursuing enemy planes.” Other reports have gone further, stating that the plane is also meant to be able to handle enemy fighters in aerial combat. Given its base platform characteristics, it would likely match up well in the air against many of America’s “teen series” aircraft.
In December 2006, Sukhoi announced a target of 18 SU-34s produced by 2010, and in March 2006, defense minister Sergei Ivanov placed the longer-term schedule at 58 aircraft purchased by 2015. Production has taken a bit longer than that, and that order for 18 ended up capped at 5, but Russia remains serious about the platform. Eventual demand levels of 120-200 aircraft have been floated, in order to replace Russia’s 300 existing SU-24s. More recent reports have featured numbers at the low end of this range, but orders have been placed for up to 138 (8 dev, 5 in 2006, 32 in 2008, 92 in 2012).
The determining factor for final SU-34 numbers is likely to be the SU-34’s priority amidst Russia’s rearmament program. So far, that program has been well-fueled by Russian hydrocarbon exports and Central Asian distribution hammerlocks, amidst a global scenario of rising hydrocarbon demand. Discoveries of shale oil and gas may upset those economic arrangements, and force the VVS to prioritize, but the SU-34 program’s critical power projection role and submitted orders ensure its future place.
To date, Russia remains the plane’s only customer. A jamming variant of the SU-32/34 has reportedly been discussed in the Indian and Russian trade press, using an L175V / KS418 high power jamming pod that’s supposedly under development. There are also reports of export interest from Vietnam, and the plane has been exhibited in China.