Duck of Death: Su-34s Rain Planning Bombs on Ukraine

Russia's air war in Ukraine intensifies with deliveries of new Su-34 bombers, known for their ability to launch precise planning bombs from a safe distance. These devastating munitions challenge Ukrainian defenses and threaten fortified positions.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

In recent months, the Russian strikes on Ukraine’s military infrastructure saw a significant surge in the use of guided bombs. Guided bombs equipped with flight control surfaces serve as an offensive weapon. Launching these bombs does not require being near the target, as with traditional gravity bombs. This helps to limit the impact of the enemy’s air defense arsenal on aircraft.

The twin-seater Su-34 Fullback (enemies call it Hell Duck) is a fourth-generation aircraft whose design enables it to launch missile and bomb attacks on ground and air targets. Aviation bombs, such as the KAB-1500 and KAB-500 guided bombs, equip it. Russia had about 100 Su-34 bombers at the beginning of 2022. Since then, some of them have been shot down.

From February 17 to 29, the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed they had shot down 10 Su-34s, significantly more than in previous months of the war. For instance, on February 17, Ukraine claimed to have brought down two Su-34 fighter-bombers. The next day, another Su-34 went down. The Ukrainian Armed Forces say they shot down another Su-34 on February 19 and another Su-34 on February 21. On February 27, the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported the downing of two more Su-34 bombers, and some reports suggest they shot down three such aircraft in eastern Ukraine in the morning and afternoon of February 29. Thus, Russia lost 10 Su-34 bombers in just two weeks.

Ukrainians have complained to Western media outlets that the guided bombs pose a serious challenge for interception due to their rapid approach, small radar cross-section, and unpredictable flight trajectories. In recent months, Ukraine’s concerns about this deadly weapon of war have proven to be justified.

In 2024, Russian forces intensified the use of both guided and unguided bomb strikes on Ukrainian frontline and rear positions. They employed mass planning bomb strikes to gain tactical advantages, particularly noticeable during the capture of Avdiivka in mid-February.

Russia has also made significant progress in understanding how to strategically deploy extensive strike systems to minimize Kyiv’s air defense and response capabilities. Given the Ukrainian air defense system’s limited capacity, Russia has an advantage in launching bomber strikes using aircraft.

It becomes evident why the Su-34 has recently been the focus of attention for Ukraine. The Su-34’s unmatched ability to deploy planning bombs during air raids means that Russian pilots can simultaneously target up to four nearby objectives with these devices. When a target holds strategic importance, the combined power of four FAB-500 bombs can inflict significant damage.

The decision to outfit each Su-34 with four strategic bombs is fully consistent with recent comments from a senior Russian official. According to him, Moscow’s instructions include destroying underground military bunkers in Ukraine. Emphasizing the destructive power of these bombs, they add that each can carry up to 500 kg of explosives, enough to obliterate bunkers.

The Su-34 fighter bomber is notable for its exceptional endurance. It effortlessly surpasses any other fighter in terms of flight range and carries a payload similar to that of previous nuclear-armed bombers.

The Su-34 fighter bomber has been the most reliable in the Russian Air Force amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Often referred to as a standoff weapon, a planning bomb is a precision-guided munition that launches from an aircraft or ship and glides toward its target. Unlike traditional bombs, planning bombs do not rely on thrust after launch. Instead, they use their wings or aerodynamic designs to glide toward the target, guided by onboard navigation systems.
Planning bombs can strike targets with high precision, reducing the risk of collateral damage. Advanced guidance systems, such as GPS/GLONASS or laser target designators, enable them to hit targets accurately, even from long distances. This makes them particularly effective in modern warfare, where precision often outweighs sheer firepower.

Another key characteristic of planning bombs is that they can be equipped with various types of warheads, depending on the mission requirements. These include fragmentation-high-explosive warheads for destroying fortified targets, fragmentation warheads for engaging personnel and light vehicles, and even thermobaric warheads for inflicting significant damage over a large area.

However, it’s important to note that despite their high effectiveness, planning bombs are not infallible. Weather conditions, the guidance system’s performance, and enemy countermeasures can affect their accuracy and effectiveness. Nonetheless, their ability to deliver precise strikes from a safe distance makes them a valuable tool in modern warfare.

On April 5, Rostec Corporation reported on its official website that it had delivered 2024’s first lot of Su-34s. More production is underway at the JSC Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association Plant, named after V.P. Chkalov of the United Aircraft Corporation. The plant’s capacity allows it to deliver two aircraft of this type once a quarter, partially replacing the lost aircraft actively used in the war against Ukraine.


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